Committee rejects bond money for MHS

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A Malibu education activist says the decision disenfranchises Malibu.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s deeply divided Measure BB Advisory Committee on Monday narrowly voted against recommending the Board of Education designate $14 million toward Malibu High School for the construction of a two-story, middle school wing. The 7-6 vote, which included one abstention, also rejected using the money generated from the voter-approved $268 million bond Measure BB for projects at the two middle schools in Santa Monica.

The committee vote was the last hope for many Malibu parents who felt cheated that a district staff recommendation for $27.5 million to go toward Malibu High projects had been reduced in October by the Board of Education to $13.5 million, by the elimination of the middle school project, at the recommendation of the BB Committee. District Superintendent Dianne Talarico said after Monday’s meeting that since the committee called for no action, there is no need for the recommendation to go before the school board, and therefore its October decision stands.

“I am extremely disappointed in the vote, and I believe it was short sighted, and the needs of the district as a whole were not met,” said Laura Rosenthal, one of only three Malibu residents who sits on the committee. “It has effectively disenfranchised Malibu more than the vote in October.”

The committee’s vote was divided almost entirely along city lines. The seven votes against the funding came from Santa Monica residents. The six votes in favor were from three Malibu residents, a Malibu city official, a Santa Monica resident who works in Malibu and a Santa Monica College official. The abstention came from a Santa Monica resident.

During the meeting, Rosenthal had made a motion for $42 million of Measure BB money to be used for middle school projects, but no vote was ever taken. Instead, committee member Dennis Crane, a Santa Monica resident, made what he called a “substitute motion,” on which the committee voted. Crane called for the committee to support the emphasis of Measure BB funding on secondary schools, but that the estimated $62 million in undesignated money not be allocated until the concrete costs of all the projects were determined (those already funded included) and design proposals were ready.

Committee co-chair Gleam Davis, a Santa Monica resident, said the making of a substitute motion meant the committee had to vote on it, and the original motion would only receive a vote if the substitute motion were rejected. She said this was a policy in “Robert’s Rules of Order,” the guide used for local voting bodies to conduct a meeting. Several people disagreed with her interpretation, and this created a brief period of shouting among members.

Rosenthal said after the meeting she was “astonished” no vote was taken on her motion.

“I think it’s another example of how difficult it is for Malibu to have any power in this district,” she said.

Those voting against the immediate funding of the middle school projects said they were concerned it could turn out later in the year that the already funded projects cost more than originally estimated.

“To make the decision of allocations at this point when having very rough ballpark estimates [of project costs], in my view, is not responsible,” said committee member Chris Harding, a Santa Monica resident. “If you’re worried about the long-term credibility of the district, and not just the short-term political fallout, I think you put that [credibility] in jeopardy if you act today. I’m not willing to recommend an allocation at this point and then have to come back potentially in five to six months and backtrack, and look foolish.”

Harding also said it needed to be considered whether elementary schools should be getting funding as well, since the language of the bond measure called for the enhancement of all schools.

Some Malibu residents are saying Monday’s vote will harm the chances for the passage of Measure R, the $346 parcel tax renewal measure on the ballot Feb. 5. Rosenthal, who has in the past headed campaigns in favor of district funding measures, said she would not support this one, and is even considering actively campaigning against Measure R.

“Malibu needs to take a deep, hard look to see if we really can trust the district will do what’s right for Malibu, and not just Santa Monica,” Rosenthal said.

Although Malibu has a much smaller number of voters than Santa Monica, the Malibu vote has been crucial for passage of these measures, which usually win by slim margins. This is especially true for a parcel tax, which requires a two-thirds approval for passage.

But Shari Davis, a Santa Monica resident who heads the campaign in favor of Measure R, said on Tuesday there is strong and growing support for the tax in Malibu.

“The voters in Malibu really care about education,” Davis said. “We have a lot of great support in Malibu, and we care about that a lot. We’re confident that we’ll continue to build on that.”

Meanwhile, Rosenthal and some other parents have been “doing a fairly good amount of research” on how to create a separate Malibu school district. This is an idea that has come up several times in Malibu history, most recently in 2004. Rosenthal will speak to the City Council at its meeting on Monday to explain the process and to encourage city leaders to endorse the movement through a proclamation.

“We are also going to be approaching the county to at least look at whether it would be a good thing financially and politically,” Rosenthal said.