County Favors Split
LA County Education Office Backs Malibu’s Plan to Leave SMMUSD
September 16, 2021
By Jack Simon, Observer Staff Writer
The City of Malibu’s petition to split the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District into two separate districts received a major boost from county officials this week.
Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) has recommended that Malibu’s petition move forward to the next phase, even though it “does not sufficiently meet” some of financial conditions required for evaluation and approval, according to a newly-released county report.
Next Saturday, September 18, LACOE Committee on School District Organization will hold a meeting to discuss the preliminary report and decide whether to accept or reject Malibu’s contentious petition.
It comes five months after representatives from SMMUSD and local community argued at a preliminary LACOE hearing – attended by 300 people – that Malibu’s separation petition would create “irreparable harm to both Santa Monica and Malibu, specifically in the areas of diversity, equity, educational programs and finances.”
In the preliminary county report, released over the weekend, the LACOE Division of Business Advisory Services stated that the Malibu petition “has not sufficiently proven the split will be financially equitable and that it won’t affect the financial state of both districts.”
The report also expresses concern over Malibu's projected low enrollment, diversity and disruption to educational programs, county officials said.
If the LACOE committee green lights the petition on September 18, it will move to its next phase, which is regular review, said county officials. According to SMMUSD officials, regular review means a "tentative approval" of Malibu’s “unification” or separation application and that will allow the LACOE Committee to further investigate the separation proposal before making a final decision.
During their April 17 presentation to the Committee, district officials maintained Malibu did not provide current data or statistics “to justify their financial methodology for their proposal” and, given population projects, the city would not have enough students “to sustain a stand-alone district.”
In addition, district officials said, the proposed Malibu School District would take a “disproportionate share of funding resources – 33% of shared property taxes for 12.2% of students…and the City of Malibu also failed to address how a new Malibu Unified School District would address its lack of diversity.”
At the preliminary hearing, the city of Malibu argued that the SMMUSD “persists in demanding Malibu's property taxes in perpetuity. The District is trying to extract billions of dollars from Malibu as the price for local control over schools in Malibu's own community." City representatives also maintained that both districts will “remain in the top five in the county in terms of per pupil revenue.”
In early April, the School Board voted 5-2 to reject Malibu’s last proposal. The offer would have required SMMUSD to support the Malibu’s petition in exchange for the City and district agreeing to be bound by whatever financial recommendation LACOE, its staff and consultants might make at a future date, district officials said.
This 5-2 decision was made during a closed session. Board members Craig Foster and Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein dissented.
"Everybody agrees that there should be two school districts," said Foster, the sole Malibu representative on the board.
Last October, after threatening to leave SMMUSD and form its own school district for the past 25 years, the Malibu City Council re-petitioned LACOE to intervene after accusing the local school district of "negotiating in bad faith."
Attorneys for the City of Malibu called the negotiations with SMMUSD "remarkably unsuccessful.” They maintained the local district was asking Malibu taxpayers to contribute $4 billion over the first 50 years, which is “far, far, far above what is required by the California Department of Education guidelines.”
If LACOE approves Malibu’s divorce proposal, it would enter the committee review process, including a staff feasibility study and environmental analysis, and afterward submitted to the state. If the state approves the petition, it will go back to voters for a final vote.