School board to support Malibu separation process

Board members say they would sign a petition supporting the process of a Malibu parent group’s initiative to form a separate Malibu school district once the parents collected 25 percent of Malibu voters’ signatures.

By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education said last week that it would support the process of a Malibu effort to secede from the district as long as the parents running the separation initiative gathered signatures of 25 percent of Malibu voters.

Following the recommendation of Superintendent John Deasy, the board unanimously agreed to make a formal pledge to sign a petition that would send Malibu’s re-districting proposal to the Los Angeles County Board of Education, on the condition that at least 3,000 or so Malibu voter signatures were collected first.

To initiate the separation process, the parent group, which calls itself the Malibu Unified School Team, or MUST, needs to collect only signatures of a quarter of Malibu’s electorate or a majority of board member signatures, not both; either would send the petition to the county for review.

But MUST representatives told the board Thursday that they were going to collect both voter and board signatures, and were only asking the board to sign once the 25 percent voter signatures were collected.


“We determined that it would be foolish to proceed with this process without knowing that at least 25 percent of them [Malibu voters] would sign a petition,” MUST Treasurer Mitch Clarfield said. “We just want to make sure that everybody’s on board.”

MUST formed a few months ago, with the goal of making Malibu’s four schools into their own district, after an incident that pitted Malibu parents against Deasy led many Malibuites to believe they had little say in affairs of the joint district.

Malibu parents clashed with Deasy last winter over his proposal, which has been preliminarily adopted by the board, to place 15 percent of donations to schools into an “equity fund” that would be distributed throughout the district.

MUST President Tom Sorce said in an interview earlier in the summer that the gift policy itself was not a pivotal issue, but the16 or so parents were “energized” by the way Deasy handled the debate, in which many felt Malibu voices were ignored.

Sandy Thacker, MUST secretary, emphasized at the board meeting that MUST’s initiative to split from Santa Monica stemmed from a desire to have local control over Malibu students’ education, not from problems with Santa Monica.

Malibu students’ interests “must by nature come second” in the Santa Monica-Malibu district, Thacker said, because Malibu students make up less than 20 percent of the student population. “The majority must rule,” she said. “We know and acknowledge that you are not in any way at fault. You inherited a district that is flawed in its architecture.”

This is not the first time Malibu has tried to split from Santa Monica. In 1980 Malibu submitted a petition to the county but stopped the process when the county board voted against it.

At that time, the district board did what it seems poised to do now, took no position on the separation itself but supported the process.

There was also talk of a Malibu district at the time Malibu High was formed about 10 years ago, but people involved in that discussion said Malibuites concluded they did not have the facilities or tax base to support a district at that time.

MUST hired a former State Board of Education member to conduct a feasibility study over the past few months, and he concluded that Malibu now has adequate finances and meets the state’s other requirements to support its own district.

Deasy said Thursday that he had met with MUST representatives and believed the board should support the democratic process, as it did in 1980.

“I strongly recommend that a position of neutrality be taken throughout this process,” he said.

From the time MUST made its intentions public in July, Deasy has said the potential separation was a “citizen issue” and not something for school officials to decide.

“Since it’s apparent that the community of Malibu, or at least a segment thereof, wants to examine these issues, I suggest that nothing stand in the way of the democratic process,” he told the board Thursday.

The board members seemed to agree with Deasy’s sentiment.

Mike Jordan, the board’s only Malibu resident, said the discussion of separation, though it might be a difficult subject to broach, was “a dialogue that needs to go forward.”

“Even though we have a limited role [in the decision],” Jordan said, “I think it needs to go on the record that we support the people of Malibu.”

“I think it’s important that we support this process,” Vice Chair Emily Bloomfield said. “I also respect the fact that this group is going to the voters [to collect signatures] and really doing their due diligence.”

An update on special education programs was postponed until Sept. 9 at the request of parents who could not attend last week’s meeting.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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