Guest Columnist: Malibu’s most critical election: Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District

Letter to the Editor: The Malibu Times

Malibu’s most critical election: Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District 

By Wade Major

Guest Columnist 

“There’s more money there [in Malibu] than there is here [in Santa Monica] by light years.” — Sue Himmelrich, Santa Monica Mayor, February 8, Santa Monica City Council Meeting.

This November, Malibu faces its most critical election since cityhood — only it’s not for city council… but school board. And it impacts every single resident of this community — whether or not you have children.

Got your attention?

Six years after the 2016 Noguera Report identified glaring problems in the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD), the district has yet to address any of them — to the great detriment of both communities. As of this writing, morale among parents and enmity between Santa Monica and Malibu has never been worse, and the nagging achievement gap continues to receive little more than lip service. It’s clear these are systemic problems which will not be remedied except through a complete overhaul of the school board.

In a matter of weeks, in league with like-minded Santa Monica voters, we finally have that chance. If Malibu rallies on behalf of the slate of Stacy Rouse, Miles Warner, Angela DiGaetano, and Esther Hickman — we can flip the board majority for the first time in history, finally securing the school district our children — and voters — deserve. That’s why all four have received the unprecedented endorsement of the entire Malibu City Council and all six candidates for City Council. But endorsements alone can’t win unless Malibu voters show up in force to support the slate as well as the “A Brighter Future” PAC (aka ABF) which has formally endorsed them.

The slate represents the first-ever serious shot at meaningful change in a deeply dysfunctional district historically dominated by a politicized, intractable status quo. Stacy Rouse, Esther Hickman, Miles Warner, and Angela DiGaetano — three of whom have children in the district — are anything but status quo. Their election would install a new board majority as disconnected from special interests as it is connected to the concerns of parents and voters in both communities.

Santa Monica politicians like Mayor Himmelrich, however, continue to peddle falsehoods like the quote above as a pretext for the disparate treatment which has so poisoned the relationship between our cities. Never mind the fact that Santa Monica’s 90402 routinely ranks as one of the 50 wealthiest zip codes in America — a list Malibu’s 90265 has never cracked. Further, if all of Santa Monica were inserted into the list of the 100 most populous cities in America, it would rank #4 behind New York in terms of spending per resident. Why, then, such animus and dishonesty? Because the Santa Monica special interests, to whom the current board majority is beholden, view the district as a conduit to other priorities which could be more easily funded if Malibu schools simply ceased to exist, leaving all district dollars in Santa Monica.

Just how powerful is the hold that Santa Monica has over Malibu? Malibu contributes 13 percent of the district’s students but pays 35 percent of its budget because Santa Monica’s population of 94,000 versus our 10,000 furnishes it a nearly insurmountable electoral advantage to do whatever it wants.

None of this is new to veterans of the Malibu High PCB fiasco and the indignity of the district’s callous inattention during the Woolsey Fire. But why should it matter to Malibu voters who don’t have kids?

  • The control Santa Monica exercises over Malibu through the SMMUSD shows up on every resident’s tax bill to the tune of an estimated $1,800 per household, whether they have children or not. A new board committed to fiscal accountability and transparency would sever the political bonds which currently grant well-connected special interests nearly unlimited power to raise (and keep) our taxes.
  • A new board majority would reflect the concerns of parents, not special interests, enabling good faith negotiations over district separation to move forward. With special interests no longer able to obstruct negotiations via district surrogates, our city government would be relieved of a costly and longstanding headache.
  • Whereas current district economics reward Santa Monica for Malibu disenrollment, a new board would enable Malibu to strengthen its schools and attract new families committed to at least a decade or more in Malibu. Stronger, more stable neighborhoods means fewer STRs and rehab facilities, less real estate inventory available for foreign and Wall Street speculation, and a new generation of future Malibu leaders prepared to take over as stewards of our city, its beaches, and mountains.
  • A new board majority representative of district families, and not Santa Monica special interests, would further facilitate cooperation on matters of mutual benefit, sparing Malibu taxpayers and city staff the ongoing costs, fiscal and emotional, of having to deal with an untrustworthy partner with adverse interests.

This isn’t just the most important school district vote in our history — it’s the most significant vote for local control since cityhood. No matter your vote for city council — please rally your friends and neighbors to support Stacy Rouse, Miles Warner, Angela DiGaetano, and Esther Hickman for the SMMUSD Board of Education. Learn more and help support the candidates by going to,, and