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The Demolition of SMMUSD: A Building, a Blind Will and an Anticipated LCAP Approval Driving DIMINISHING Returns

Dear SMMUSD Board of Education,

You are choosing to move ahead and effectively dumping $34 million of Santa Monica school bond funds into a landfill with the destruction of the iconic Samohi History Building in order to build a third massive new building "Exploration" in addition to the other two you just built.

You have not approved that building’s plans yet and you are aware the District's class space and enrollment reports told you we don't need that building since enrollment is falling off a cliff. The only reason we’ve heard for why you are ignoring these facts and failing to study adaptive reuse is that students need new learning spaces. You haven’t provided any evidence that supports new classrooms will improve student outcomes. This is government waste.

At Monday night's LMS Historic Resources community meeting, Carey Upton, the District's Chief Operations Officer, claimed there's a chance that the City's 2021-2029 Housing Element could bring an additional 2,500 students to the District. That is a false narrative.

First, the February, 2021 Decision Insite Annual Enrollment Projection Report already clarified the fact that the vast majority of Market Rate Housing included in the Housing Element has already been planned for. The report identifies that this type of housing in the pipeline consists primarily of studios and one bedrooms so it doesn't support K-12 enrollment increases.

Second, it's no secret that the remaining 6,000+ units called for in the RHNA allocations must be "affordable" units, so although the City is required to produce a Housing Element that finds spaces to accommodate building these units, the mandate goes no further. It can’t make the building happen because the State isn't providing the funds to do it.

Waste is a big problem in this District and the District's Sustainability Plan is as fake as the City's. SMMUSD's Sustainability Plan was aggressively pushed forth by School Board Vice Chair Laurie Lieberman. Interestingly, the plan failed to include the Adaptive Reuse sustainability leg and also failed support from the PTSA’s school sites Sustainability Chairs who’d been told by their then District Council Chair, Jen Smith, that Lieberman would be drafting their support letter.

No such letter surfaced as part of a records request, so it seems the PTSA Sustainability site Chairs never got to review the final version they’d asked for. None the less, your votes advanced the plan without the voices of our sustainability representatives. Seems like, similar to the recent hidden reports that expose your faulty overdevelopment plans at Samohi, savvy sustainability parents would have caught the flaw and asked to add adaptive reuse.

Once you approved your flawed plan, you hired a sustainability coordinator immediately after laying off teachers. So the kids learn nothing about adaptive reuse. It seems clear you don't want them to see what's in front of them -- a huge demolition project to increase Samohi’s carbon footprint in the form of a landfill.

It’s not too late to set a good example and study ADAPTIVE REUSE for the History Building. It’s also not too late to stop playing favorites with the public, like only hearing and responding to the gentrification lobby organization funded by some of you in order to decieve and drown out oppositional bands marching in your destructive pathway. Shame on you.

On the academic front, your approvals are on target to continually diminish the number of students achieving a-g credits. A contributing factor is stated LCAP goal set to encourage 15 percent of our high school students to take at least one college level course while still in high school. This is causing hundreds of students who don’t pass to feel like failures.

A-g credits are what kids need just to apply to State colleges and universities and this Fall alone, according to tonight’s agenda Item E.1.v., you want to send more than 700 Samohi students to SMC for a-g classes through the COLLEGE AND CAREER ACCESS PATHWAYS (CCAP) A DUAL ENROLLMENT PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT.

Promoting SMC is not why we have a Board of Ed. Why send our students to an open college campus for evening classes when you just spent a small fortune installing higher fences, remote electronic gates and surveillance cameras at Samohi? Either you care about student safety or you don’t.

Your counter intuitive plans include the wasteful and expensive PBL Program where ten$ of million$ in renovations were sunk into the Obama/Olympic campus for a program that doesn’t have viable student interest. You said it would work and promised to cut losses if it didn’t, yet here we are about to start year three and the 2021/22 enrollment which promised 300 students shows, according to tonight’s FY 21/22 budget report, that enrollment is expected to gain just 2 students next year for a total of only 120 kids.

It’s not feasible so why are you wasting our money there, including another half a million dollars buried in the purchase orders on tonight’s consent calendar? As it turns out, an analysis of the budget report indicates Samohi is projected to lose 214 students over the 2020/21 year. This is more than half the number called out in the June 2020 BrainSpaces Report, built off the 2018 enrollment data, which informed staff that Samohi wouldn't need an EXPLORATION building if the high school's enrollment dropped by 420 kids. That’s already happened so what are you doing other than wasting public funds?

The following data was included in the LCAP attachment for the presentation to the Board on June 17th. It includes the following stats:

Students graduating with a-g credits -- 73 percent and the goal is set for 75 percent. THIS STAT HAS BEEN DECLINING FOR YEARS. The change to block schedule and the failure to employ a Director of Curriculum & Instruction, the failure to reduce class sizes have added to the problem. In addition the EXTREMELY pricey consultants, Hodson and Fullon known as "Innovate Ed," were used to direct the LCAP process that is failing more kids.

Students taking at least one college level class during High School -- 10.9 percent and the goal is set for 15 percent. Why pressure more kids to take these classes? Are our HS teachers teaching them or are you eliminating more teaching positions by pushing this?

You've already got a plan to eliminate some 23 teaching positions in FY 22-23 once the Covid funds are spent while at the same time, according to your budget reports, you plan to increase the size of the District's Admin Staff and increase the budget for them too. This is an unacceptable response to parents and students who are asking for SMALLER CLASS SIZES!

Elementary students on track for college -- 53 percent and the goal is set for 70 percent.

With these projected goals, it appears evident that the SMMUSD board agenda is to limit immediate access to higher education and instead funnel more kids from graduation to workforce. ALL students should be encouraged to learn more. With knowledge comes power. With power comes self determination.

We expect more from the Board and the District and are greatly disturbed by the lack of attention to these details, a failure to focus on ACTUAL FACTS and EDUCATION, and the odd finger pointing at physical classrooms to say that’s the cause of the perpetual ACHIEVEMENT GAP.

Ridiculous and absurd are two words to best describe your logic. Please, Get real! Since the exploration classrooms aren’t built yet, you may as well tell parents to transfer out now because their kids won't be capable of learning anything until the completely unnecessary and not yet Board approved plans for the EXPLORATION Building come online.

It is time for the board to PIVOT, use the FACTS paid for with public funds -- Decision Insite 2020 & 21 Enrollment Projections, June 2020 BrainSpaces Report and the City's 2021-29 Housing Element -- and DO GOOD for our students and our community. Give our kids the smaller class sizes they deserve, shrink the administration because we don’t need to add more chiefs as our tribe is diminished, and immediately halt the subverted plan to cut 23 or 24 teachers in FY 22/23 that’s buried in these budget reports!

No more approving programs and buildings without maintenance costs attached to them. Those costs come from the same general fund pot that pays for teachers so when you add those you’re taking away, for what, more SMC classes? No more saying new programs and new classrooms will close the achievement gap because they won’t. Smaller class sizes will do that. No more pressuring our kids to go to college while in high school.

Years ago, the college gave the curriculum to our teachers to teach. SMC needs to learn how to share that way again. Let Title One Funding follow the students because no child or family should feel ingratiated to PTA’s for receiving funds they are entitled to.

Finally, do not “decentralize” the District. Decentralization is just code for pitting the schools and families against one another. No more lip service about building community when your actions point to plans to tear it down. Stop overdeveloping and wasting public funds and please, focus on the best educational outcomes for our kids.


Ann Thanawalla
SMMUSD Parent and Santa Monica Resident

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