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Malibu Split from Santa Monica Schools in Jeopardy


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

November 2, 2017 -- Tempers were tested, one member started to storm out and a large part of the audience left furious Monday in a special School Board meeting on whether to go forward with Malibu's split from the Santa Monica-Malibu public school system.

No vote was taken, but after years of lobbying and negotiations, the future of a separate Malibu school district looked highly questionable after calculations showed the split would leave Santa Monica schools in a financial hole.

School Superintendent Ben Drati was told to examine abandoning a separation while also finding a way to allow autonomy for Malibu, said Oscar de la Torre, a board member for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD).

He said Drati will also meet with Malibu officials and other advocates of an independent Malibu district to determine “if some kind of compromise can be made.”

The superintendent, he said, will come back to the board with a SMMUSD plan which could be an alternative.

“It’s probably the most important decision we’ll ever make,” de La Torres said. “We need all the data.”

At issue, in part, was an outside report that found a Santa Monica-Malibu separation would cause a funding gap for SMMUSD of $5.3 million ($610 per Santa Monica student) in 2024-25 and grow to $10.1 million ($1,162 per Santa Monica student) in 2029-30.

The Malibu Unification Negotiations Committee’s proposed agreement addressed the gap with a formula in which the Malibu district would transfer funds to its Santa Monica counterpart.

“Notably, the yearly transfers specified by the MUNC formula fall short of covering the full funding gap," the School Services of California report on the separation said.

The funding gap jumps as Malibu eventually stops the transfers.

By 2032-33, per student funding for Malibu would be $10,404 (or 41 percent) above the projected funding of $25,256 for SMMUSD and a lone Santa Monica district would be $2,086 (or eight percent below the SMMUSD level, the report said.

Monday’s special meeting was called to discuss the financial ramifications of Malibu starting its own school district -- a notion kicked around for years by the highly-affluent enclave, with parents contending SMMUSD slights it because it is small.

Parents and others are also fighting over hazardous waste on Malibu’s school sites.

The most contentious part of the six-hour session involved a comment late in the proceedings by Board Member Maria Leon-Vazquez, who was seemingly criticizing the City of Malibu for unilaterally filing in October for the SMMUSD split with a county committee on school district organization .

The move was seen as a way to kick-start the split with SMMUSD ("City of Malibu Files for 'Divorce' from Santa Monica-Malibu School District," October 3, 2017).

As tensions rose on Monday night, Board Member Craig Foster, who lives in Malibu, stood and started walking to the exit after saying, “Oh my God,” according the Malibu Times.

“It delays it,” Leon-Vazquez was said to reply, and then turned to Foster.

“Go ahead, just leave, Craig. Just leave,” she said, according to the publication.

Members of the Malibu City Council were calling out from the packed audience, the report said.

“Maria, you told both of us to do it,” Laura Rosenthal, a member of the Malibu City Council.

“Why are you lying?” Malibu Mayor Skylar Peak said to Leon-Vazquez.

“I’m not lying!” Leon-Vazquez replied, according to the ppaper's account.

As tensions eased, Foster returned.

Editors note: The financial impact of the proposed split was first analyzed in an opinion piece in the Lookout by former school board member Jose Escarce. ( "A Separate School District for Mailbu, But How Much Should Santa Monica Give Up?" March 27, 2017)


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