Make-or-Break School District Decision Could be Hammered Out Monday

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Advocates for Malibu Public Schools

No one ever said Malibu breaking away from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District would be easy or quick.  Now, once again, Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS) is urging supporters of an independent school district to show up in Santa Monica for the final public discussion on the topic before the SMMUSD board meeting.  

The meeting, scheduled for 5 p.m., Oct. 30, at school district headquarters on 16th Street in Santa Monica, is a specially called meeting with the sole topic of separating the district into two independent entities and the final chance to make opinions known to Board of Education members, who are then scheduled to vote on the matter once and for all on Nov. 16.

AMPS hopes a strong Malibu turnout at school district headquarters this Monday will drive home its culmination of seven years worth of work to sever ties with the City of Santa Monica and create a stand-alone school district. 

“We’ve been working with SMMUSD to find a negotiated mutually accepted solution to separation. The Malibu Unification Negotiation Committee was formed to propose a financial solution based on criteria the school board had laid out,” Craig Foster, AMPS founder and Malibu school board representative, said. “The MUNC unanimously came back with a recommendation. They then said we need a peer review of that to make sure that that solution is in fact a valid, viable solution and then that peer review came back last week and said, ‘Yes, in fact, that solution is a valid, viable solution.’”   

The peer review requested by the school board was completed by the highly regarded company, School Services of California.  The review backs the MUNC report that the many financial entanglements between the two districts can be severed over a years-long time period eventually leaving Santa Monica financially whole to operate a separate school district. The review reads in part that, because calculations developed by School Services of California “were virtually identical” to calculations from the MUNC, the company “believes that this both validates the reported results of the MUNC Revenue Neutrality Model as well as confirms that our independently developed model is working consistent with its intended operation.”

After final public input before the Board of Education meeting Monday, another important step happens Nov. 16.  There’s expected to be an action item where the board will take a final vote on the subject of accepting the MUNC report and moving forward on the separation or not. 

“The Oct. 30 meeting, history being any judge, will be the most important meeting leading to action on the 16th of November, which may already be clear from the conversations on Oct. 30,” Foster said. “So, that’s a huge meeting in terms of the school board coming to grips with this seven-year process and almost two-year process of the MUNC.” 

As of now, it is not clear what the opinion of the school board or school district staff may be. Multiple calls to representatives from Santa Monica—including School Board President Laurie Lieberman and MUNC committee members Tom Larmore and Paul Silvern—were not answered. Requests for an interview with Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati also went unanswered.

“We’ll discuss what to do moving forward with separation. Do they accept the MUNC report? Do they reject it? Or whatever alternative the board comes up with,” Foster described. “So that’s going to be a very, very important meeting because if the school board says, ‘Yes, we accept the MUNC report,’ then we are as good as separated and we simply need to walk through the execution steps to create two independent school districts. If they say, ‘No, we don’t accept the MUNC report and we’re done talking,’ then we all have a heck of a problem. And there’s some possibility they have some other outcome.  I don’t know what that would be, because we’ve been over this ground so many times that it’s hard to imagine that there is new ground to explore.”

The City of Malibu has taken another tactic as well. Independently, in September, Malibu leaders submitted a resolution to the Los Angeles County Office of Education that initiates the county and state process of separating Malibu School District from Santa Monica. In December, it is likely the LACo Office of Education Committee on School District Reorganization will have a public hearing in Malibu. The City of Malibu will then have a 20-minute presentation in support of its petition, the Santa Monica-Malibu School District will present its views and then the public will have the opportunity to comment.  This will be the first of four public hearings as part of a separate independent regulatory process initiated by the City of Malibu to go to the county and state asking that they separate the school district using their powers given under the law. 

Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, School Board President Laurie Lieberman was listed as a member of the Malibu Unification Negotiation Committee. Lieberman does not and has never served on the committee.