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Santa Monica-Malibu Split Likely to be Pulled from School Board Meeting Tonight  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

April 20, 2017 -- The hot topic of cost and other issues involving the split of Malibu from the Santa Monica-Malibu public school system is likely to be pulled from tonight’s agenda, officials announced late Wednesday.

Ben Drati, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) is planning to recommend discussion of the item be postponed, said spokesperson Gail Pinsker.

“This recommendation is due to board member Craig Foster unable to attend due to a health issue and new information received by the Malibu Unification Negotiations Committee that needs to be reviewed,” she said.

Foster is the SMMUSD board’s lone Malibu resident.

The meeting itself hasn’t been delayed. It is scheduled for tonight in the district’s administrative offices, 1651 16th Street at 5:30 p.m.

How Malibu’s split would financially impact the SMMUSD, as well as new district’s financial liabilities, are crucial issues.

The implications were laid out by former SMMUSD board member Jose Escarce in an opinion piece published by The Lookout last month ("A Separate School District for Mailbu, But How Much Should Santa Monica Give Up?" March 27, 2017).

About 16 percent of SMMUSD’s 11,003 kindergarten-through-12th grade students attend four schools located in Malibu, with rest in schools in Santa Monica.

An agreement hammered out in February by the special Malibu Unification Negotiations Committee lays out the financial ramifications. Tonight’s meeting was meant for an initial dive with the public into the committee’s 69-page report.

SMMUSD’s general fund budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year is $171.2 million. Most of it is dedicated to expenditures, with another $20.7 million in the reserve.

“The reasons for a potential adverse financial effect on SMUSD are complex, and include the intricacies of how State funds are provided to local school districts in California,” the committee’s report noted.

“In addition, although a stand-alone SMUSD would keep certain revenues provided by the City of Santa Monica, which are currently shared with Malibu schools, SMUSD would no longer receive property tax revenue generated in the Malibu community,” the report said.

The report specifies how to calculate funding needed for each of the districts annually through the 2029-2030 fiscal year; a “fair schedule” of payments from SMMUSD to the Malibu Unified School District, taking into account MUSD’s ability to pay.

It seeks a way of “maintaining predictable and stable revenue growth for both districts,” the report said.

The state of California’s formula distributing revenue to school districts hinges on average daily attendance, although other factors are included.

Targeted amounts of revenue are set for each district by the state. Each district’s total property taxes is subtracted, with the state funding the difference.

Districts that receive enough property taxes to come close to the state’s target –- like SMMUSD -– get minimum state aid.

Malibu’s tax revenue would race out of the gate immediately, either meeting or exceeding the state’s target, the report said.

Not so a new SMUSD, which could struggle to overcome the loss of Malibu’s tax revenue “at least for several years following reorganization,” the report said.

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