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Malibu Agrees to Pause in Battle to Separate from Santa Monica Public Schools


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 4, 2017 – Leaders of Malibu’s sought-after split from its Santa Monica-based school system have agreed to postpone an alternate path through the county Office of Education they hoped would lead to a quicker divorce.

Hitting the pause button, the Malibu City Council voted grudgingly but unanimously at its November 27 meeting to do as its estranged partner -- the school board for Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) -- had asked.

In order to give SMMUSD time to prepare a financial counter offer in the split, the council said it will ask for what is about a two-week delay in the first public hearing by the county on Malibu’s petition seeking unification.

The Office of Education public hearing was to be in late January. As SMMUSD requested, the City is asking for a delay until after school Superintendent Ben Drati presents a new proposal February 15 detailing how funding would be divvied between the two districts.

The message behind last Monday's council vote is Malibu is that leadership “has been bending over backwards to cooperate” with SMMUSD, said Council Member Laura Rosenthal.

But she said the council wants to make it clear “this is not an open-ended delay.”

She also said the delay has the blessings of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS).

Council Member Lou La Monte agreed to the delay and also expressed a sense of futility in doing so.

“My feeling is the city is postponing something it (SMMUSD) will oppose anyway,” he said.

SMMUSD’s school board agreed to separate two years ago ("Santa Monica School Board Members Support Malibu Split, Questions Remain," December 2, 2015).

But it balked just recently when an independent analysis showed Santa Monica’s schools would take a hit financially ("SMMUSD Board Seeks 50-Year Financial Settlement as Condition of Malibu Separation," November 17, 2017).

On the table now from the district is a 50-year agreement to ensure an equitable split in funding, which is mostly from the state.

In September, the Malibu City Council made use of a state law in which a special 11-member committee decides local school district re-organizations through a county Office of Education ("City of Malibu Files for 'Divorce' from Santa Monica-Malibu School District," October 3, 2017).

But side-stepping SMMUSD by going through the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization is, it turns out, still complicated.

The committee looks to the district being left behind to give its support to the ex-partner. SMMUSD’s board has not yet taken a position on the issue.

The math behind the split is also important; a funding formula was not part of the initial Malibu petition to separate.

Moreover, petitions for separation which are initiated by a city council, as is the case in Malibu, are rare.

That will also complicate the process, said Margo Minecki, a public information officer for the county’s Office of Education.

The office does “not have information about any other so-called local agency petitions to form a new school district,” she said.

As part of its vote last week, the council also revised its petition to ask the county to consider “a reasonable financial proposal for an orderly transition period” and that voting for the new school board be conducted by district, instead of at-large.

How elections are conducted is a sore point for SMMUSD, which is concerned it will be swept up in Voting Rights ligation against the Santa Monica City Council.

The suit, filed on behalf of Pico District activists, contends the at-large elections dilute the ability of Hispanics to win council elections ("Judge Orders Voting Rights Lawsuit Against City of Santa Monica to Move Forward," June 14, 2017).

Such litigation argues splitting neighborhoods into voting districts will make it easier for less affluent minority candidates to win seats.

Malibu’s petition for separation shows the city feels ill-treated by SMMUSD’s at-large elections.

Residents of Malibu have expressed concern and frustration that they are not adequately represented by the SMMUSD governing board due to its at-large system of election, and that their concerns about the policies and practices of SMMUSD go largely unaddressed, the petition said.

“At large elections have been known to have this effect where there is a minority community distinct from the overall community, regardless of whether the minority community is a racial/ethnic minority, socio-economic minority, geographic minority, or any other minority community with interests distinct from those of the majority,” the petition said said.


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