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Santa Monica-Malibu School Board Votes to Oppose Malibu Petition for Easier Split


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

December 19, 2017 -- The board of education for Santa Monica-Malibu public schools has voted to oppose a potentially quicker route to separation sought by Malibu, saying City officials there failed to adequately address the fiscal future of the schools that would be left behind.

The School Board on Thursday voted 6 to 1 not to support Malibu’s petition to the county Office of Education seeking to split from the rest of the district ("City of Malibu Files for 'Divorce' from Santa Monica-Malibu School District," October 3, 2017).

Board member Craig Foster -- the only board member who lives in Malibu -- cast the dissenting vote.

The vote, at the tail end of a meeting that lasted until about 1 a.m., was anticipated by the Malibu City Council. It had already upset some School Board members after filing a separation petition in late August to the county Office of Education without first seeking their support.

It also came after Malibu’s council agreed to try postponing an initial public hearing by the county on the petition until schools Superintendent Ben Driati in mid-February returns with another round of proposals on how the separation -- if it does occur -- should be handled financially so neither students in Malibu nor Santa Monica go wanting.

At the last minute, the Malibu City Council also amended its original petition to cede from SMMUSD to include fiscal details, such as increasing Malibu funding to SMMUSD annually for a period after the districts have split.

Nonetheless, the school board’s motion to oppose said the petition had neglected, even with the amendment, to address “negative fiscal impacts” to Santa Monica schools.

Gail Pinsker, a SMMUSD spokesperson, said the board’s opposition to the petition was not meant as a signal that it is no longer interested nor supportive of Malibu’s desire to form its own school district.

The “process will continue,” she said.

The board agreed, at least in concept, to a separate Malibu school district about two years ago and formed a committee equally represented by Malibu and SMMUSD members to negotiate a possible split ("Santa Monica School Board Members Support Malibu Split, Questions Remain," December 2, 2015).

But SMMUSD balked when it learned a divorce could cost it per-student funding from the state, despite ongoing funding from Malibu to offset potential losses ("Malibu Split from Santa Monica Schools in Jeopardy," November 2, 2017).

The two sides remain are far apart on the money issue and now Malibu officials are shaking their heads at a SMMUSD proposal for a fifty-year joint funding agreement if the separation is approved.

The district is now also talking about an arrangement granting Malibu schools more independence but not outright succession.

Still, trying to win approval of the county’s Committee on School District Organization will be more difficult without the blessing of the home district.

Such a nod is one of several factors the committee considers when presented with a petition like the one for a Malibu district.

Another uncertainty is the origin of the petition itself. County officials say it is highly unusual to receive such a petition from a city council, as opposed to a citizens’ petition or a joint requests of two school district governing boards.

The California State Legislature creates the committees on district reorganization in each county, and members are elected by representatives from local boards of education.


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