Malibu schools’ enrollment declining


Lifting of the moratorium on inter-district permits, allowing outside students to attend local schools, is supported by local school principals and the Board of Education to stem the sinking numbers.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

The Santa Monica-Malibu School District Board of Education is considering a revision to the 2002 moratorium on interdistrict permits, an action supported by local school principals.

The student population of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has been on the decline the past few years, and the dwindling is expected to continue for several years. Because of this, Malibu principals are supporting an end to the interdistrict permit moratorium to prevent any need to reduce the number of teachers and programs.

“We are very open to accepting interdistrict permit students when we have space,” Webster Elementary School Principal Phil Cott told the Board of Education at last week’s meeting in Malibu. “It only seems to make sense. If we have the space, we put a student in the seat. If we don’t have space, we say ‘Gee, we’re sorry, we don’t have room for you.'”

Cott said if the school were to get too small, it would create a “lack of flexibility.”

The entire Board of Education supported lifting the moratorium in Malibu. Some members said they would also like to see it lifted in Santa Monica, but only for grades kindergarten through eighth grade. Board Vice President Jose EscarcĂ© said prior to the moratorium coming into effect, Santa Monica High School was “bursting at the seams,” and he did not believe opening the school to nonresidents would be beneficial.

Kathy Wisnicki, the only Malibu resident on the school board, said she “wholeheartedly supports” an end to the moratorium. She pointed out that many of the students who would want to come to the city on interdistrict permits lived just outside of district boundaries, and actually have to travel farther to their current schools. She said ending the moratorium would also be an opportunity for the children of low-income workers in Malibu to attend schools here, creating more of a diversity. Currently, only nonresident children of city or school district employees may attend Malibu schools.

“It’s really a shame that we’re losing that [diversity] because of the moratorium,” Wisnicki said.

Another concern about the sinking student population is a financial hit for the district. Most district revenue comes from the state and is based on daily attendance. Last Thursday, the district received a long-term enrollment projection from consultant DecisionInsite, and it said the numbers would continue to slide for several years.

The district has received news about long-term enrollment decline before, but this consultant used census and other information that previous studies have not included. Within five years, the district population could drop from the current 11,656 to as low as 9,616 (what the consultant said was a conservative projection). A moderate projection saw the population dropping to 10,533. The consultant said the projections usually land somewhere in the middle.

Some of the blame for the population decline falls on the interdistrict permit ban. But the consultant said there were some unusual things going on in the district, including a drop in population from kindergarten through first grade and from eighth grade to ninth grade. He said usually those numbers go up.

Previously, the district had been using the projection numbers from the consultant, School Works, which helped to create the school district’s Facilities Master Plan. But those numbers were never fully accepted by district officials.

“We have to now revisit everything that was presented,” said district Superintendent Dianne Talarico. “We have something that is more in synch with reality.”

Also at last Thursday’s meeting, the Board of Education tentatively supported a 3 percent raise for the school district’s teachers. The teachers union’s contract is up in July. The district staff and the union had reached an agreement in December. The board will formally vote on the agreement at a later meeting.

Although representatives from the Financial Oversight Committee expressed some concern about the deal, this agreement was nowhere near as controversial as the one in 2006 that led to the resignation of the district’s financial chief and forced the district to hire a consultant to prove it could afford a 5 percent raise.