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SMMUSD Board Seeks 50-Year Financial Settlement as Condition of Malibu Separation


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November 17, 2017 – With a reconciliation rejected by Malibu parents, leaders of the Santa Monica-Malibu public school system asked Thursday that a 50-year financial settlement be worked out before a potential divorce so both sides are fairly treated over the long term.

Superintendent Ben Drati was asked to bring a revenue-sharing plan to the school board in mid-February. Such a formula would be meant to ensure both Malibu and Santa Monica schools are funded adequately through strong and troubled economic times alike.

“It is the critical piece” needed before the divorce can be finalized, said Craig Foster, one of the seven board members for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) -- and the only one who lives in Malibu.

In addition, the board gave Drati another mission: Convince Malibu to get a postponement of a public hearing next month by the County Office of Education on the City’s petition to leave SMMUSD ("Divorce Talks Between Malibu and Santa Monica Public Schools Grow More Acrimonious," November 13, 2017).

The petition is seen as a way to circumvent the school board’s approval of the split. The problem is, officials have said, that the county and the state might be reluctant to approve a separation without the blessings of SMMUSD.

On Thursday, most of the board agreed with trying to postpone county action until the district has a revenue-sharing formula to guide a split, an issue not specifically addressed in the petition.

Without such information, the board would likely oppose the petition.

“I don’t see that we’d have a choice,” said Board President Laurie Lieberman.

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Malibu students comprise about 17 percent of the district’s approximate enrollment of 11,000 students. Parents there have talked for decades about forming their own school system, saying SMMUSD pays scant attention to Malibu and short-changes students.

In 2015, the board agreed on the separation, although in general terms ("Santa Monica School Board Members Support Malibu Split, Questions Remain," December 2, 2015).

A negotiating team met almost 50 times after that, but its final report, and an outside consultant’s findings showed Santa Monica schools losing funding. The board balked, and offered two different options.

Plan A was for Malibu to stay, but be given more independence.

Plan B involved finding a revenue formula fair to prevent either district from financial loss due to the split.

On Thursday, Drati said Malibu said “no” to Plan A. As a result, the board moved on to Plan B.

But two hours of public comment at the meeting -- most of it from Malibu parents -- showed little interest in any action but getting on, as soon as possible, with the separation. Some wanted a superintendent just for Malibu’s four existing SMMUSD schools.

“We need to control our own destiny,” said Malibu resident Martin King.

“We want out,” said a Malibu father.

Board members tried to make peace, although with little discernible success.

Lieberman prompted angry retorts from the audience when she said she understood Malibu’s frustration with the lengthy process, but the speakers didn’t need to repeatedly characterize Malibu schools are so troubled.

“Everything is not awful,” she said.

Members of the audience loudly replied with references to rats in school buildings and severe shortages of parking.

That, Lieberman said, is what she got for trying to bring a positive note to the proceedings.

“I intended that to be a good thing, but no good deal goes unpunished,” she said.

A string of Hispanic parents from Santa Monica told the board the fairest alternative was to keep the district together, and the schools couldn’t afford less funding as it deals with a glaring achievement gap among minority, unaffluent students ("Most Minority Disadvantaged Students in Santa Monica Malibu Public Schools Fail State Test," October 11, 2017).

One student told the board it was distressing to see all the bitterness between the two sides.

“I don’t understand why it has to be so nasty,” said the senior at Santa Monica High School.

His experiences with the district, he said, “have been amazing.”


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