School measure must pass

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    On June 3, the citizens of Malibu will face what I believe will be a defining moment in our community’s life, and as a Malibu resident and member of the Board of Education, I ask your indulgence to consider a few thoughts that have been weighing heavily on my mind. By now we are all aware of the state fiscal crisis and have heard that funding from the state for our public schools will be significantly cut beginning next school year. The impact of those cuts on our local schools here in Malibu will be devastating.

    In the past there may be some merit to the argument that the Santa Monica-Malibu School District failed to adequately plan, and effectively communicate with the public, its budget process, decisions and spending practices. I want all of the Malibu citizens to know those days are long gone. The new administrative team, with all new faces filling every key position over the past three years, is a group of highly competent leaders who have changed virtually every aspect of the district’s fiscal operations and accountability. An independent citizen financial oversight committee has played an important role. It is a very impressive transformation and strong new direction for the district.

    It is also true that in the past Malibu residents have often heard from the school district that there is a “budget crisis” and this action or that action is necessary. Through the 1990s, it seemed like a cycle of feast or famine that really left some of our residents, including me, to question the credibility of some of our school leaders. So how do we evaluate this latest round of pleas for more money for the schools? This is the truth: This current school funding dilemma is fundamentally different than past school funding woes and far more profound in its implications. The state’s $34 billion budget shortfall and Gov. Gray Davis’ plan to fix it leaves our district not a few million dollars short so that a program can be trimmed here or there, as in past so-called school budget crises. It leaves our school district at least $12 million short for the next school year that begins in August.

    This is just a sampling of what will happen in Malibu if no additional funding comes our way: 16 Malibu teachers will be laid off, every elementary school music teacher will be laid off and the music program terminated, all elementary physical education teachers will be laid off, all elementary school librarians will be laid off. Employees in virtually every area of the schools, from custodians to school nurses to classroom aids, will lose their jobs, including 12 administrators. Class sizes will rise in every grade except kindergarten, first and second grades, which at the present time the district is desperately trying to protect. That’s only part of the picture. These cuts are not random “look what might happen” type of cuts. They are real. The board must approve these cuts by March 15 when layoff notices by law must be sent. By law, we must submit a balanced budget in June.

    But there is something positive on the horizon. At our Jan. 30 meeting, the school board received an in-depth analysis and report from a committee set up to explore and recommend action on a school funding measure for the June 3 ballot. This committee considered numerous options and took to heart its charge to discover why the Measure EE vote on the November ballot failed to receive the two-thirds majority for passage. The board voted unanimously to submit to the voters a new measure that addresses concerns that emerged after that November vote.

    The amount to be levied was decreased, a senior citizen exemption was added and the new measure includes new and strong accountability features. The passage of this measure will allow the district to restore many of the cuts listed above, and save our schools. In Malibu we have a time-honored tradition of debating and disagreeing about just about everything. We’ll stand toe-to-toe about whether this property deserves an easement or that new home has too high a roof line. The local plan. The civic center. Everybody has an opinion and we love our politics. It is the Malibu way and I happen to believe it is healthy. It helps us sort out tough issues and discover who we are and who we want to be. In the end, I believe we usually get it pretty much right.

    But I would submit that this is something with which we can all agree. The children at Cabrillo, Webster, Pt. Dume, Malibu Middle School and Malibu High represent all of our hopes and aspirations for the future. They truly are our most vital and precious resource. There are 2,350 of them in all. They are your children, grandchildren and neighborhood kids. Let’s join together as a community on June 3 and make a clear statement to our kids: we will not let you down. Let’s say to them: As the adult leaders in our community, we will assume our responsibility, even if our leaders in Sacramento will not, to make sure you get a quality education in our Malibu schools.

    Mike Jordan

    Member, Board of Education