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City Council Jumps into Fray Over Malibu Split

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By Jorge Casuso

November 12, 2020 -- The City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to jump into the battle over Malibu's efforts to split from the School District, citing concerns over the loss of both funding and student diversity.

The Council will express its concerns in a letter to the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) that will affirm the Council's support for a split but only if the terms are "fair and just to students in Santa Monica schools."

The letter will focus the division of revenues and assets the Council fears would harm local students, as well as concerns it would impact the racial and ethnic makeup of the district.

"This split would mean that Malibu would become an almost all white district, and ours would become less diverse," said Mayor Kevin McKeown.

The vote to weigh in on the proposed split comes one month after the Malibu City Council accused the District of "negotiating in bad faith" and re-petitioned County officials to intervene ("Malibu District Split Hits Major Roadblock," October 29, 2020).

The action was met on October 28 with a letter from Superintendent Ben Drati charging that Malibu had "abandoned our collaboration" leaving the District "deeply skeptical."

Malibu's approach, Drati said, "would separate SMMUSD into two very unequal districts," where Santa Monica students would receive $14,264 each in five years, compared to $25,998 for Malibu students.

In addition, Drati wrote, Santa Monica's nominal annual growth is based on "a set of assumptions for local revenues in Santa Monica that are unrealistic."

Malibu officials say the District is asking their taxpayers to contribute $4 billion over the first 50 years, which is far in excess of what is required by LACOE guidelines.

The tensions have since escalated, with Craig Foster, the lone Malibu resident on the School Board, calling Drati's response to his city's move "deeply offensive, wildly hypocritical and completely inappropriate" ("School Superintendent's Letter 'Wildly Hypocritical,'" November 3, 2020).

That prompted a response from School Board Chair Jon Kean, who called the accusations "inflammatory and unfair' ("OPINION-- School Board Member's Accusations 'Inflammatory and Unfair,'" November 5, 2020).

On Tuesday, Council member Gleam Davis said that after the Malibu City Council weighed in with a letter to the County, Santa Monica needed to "weigh in on behalf of the students in Santa Monica schools."

She noted that funding measures approved by Santa Monica voters "also helped Malibu" students.

"As we head to separation, we have to keep in mind that they are all our students," said Davis, who placed the motion on the agenda along with McKeown and Councilmember Kristin McCowan.

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