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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Long Road Is Ahead for Malibu School District Secession Process

BY KRISTINA KELL

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board members participated in a session with the Los Angeles County Office of Education on School District Organization and members of the Malibu community last week to assess the feasibility of creating a separate Malibu school district.
The session was in response to the City of Malibu’s petition with LACOE for the purpose of forming a Malibu unified school district from territory within the SMMUSD.
Matt Spies, the spokesperson for LACOE, provided a detailed summary of the process of “unification” —the legal term for forming a new district—to the board members, reviewing the specific criteria that the county may consider in approving a new district.
The meeting came on the heels of the unanimous November 2011 vote by the Malibu City Council to move forward with the petition process seeking to create a Malibu district.
Attending the meeting from Malibu were Mayor Laura Rosenthal, Mayor Pro Tem Lou La Monte, members of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, Malibu PTA members, local education activists and several city council candidates.
After the LACOE presentation, Rosenthal addressed the board members, conveying the intention to collaborate with the district to reach a mutually beneficial agreement that would allow the Malibu community to take control of its own schools, while simultaneously advantaging both cities financially and continuing to provide superior education to all students from both cities.
The mayor stressed the desire for all agencies to work together to craft an agreement so the process of “unification” would be a win-win for all students and both cities.
Rosenthal explained that a number of Malibuites, through AMPS, have begun researching consultants who specialize in this type of “unification” analysis to generate a feasibility evaluation determining if the two districts are viable independently.
The process would include intricate negotiations to ensure both districts, the programs, services and finances of the two communities, benefit from a district separation and how the cities can cooperate to achieve this goal. A poll of current district residents is also expected to be part of the evaluation process.
Not surprisingly, the major concerns addressed by the SMMUSD board members hinged on the financials. Questions by the board arose in two main areas, the parcel tax and the bond.
Presently, property owners in Malibu and Santa Monica pay a SMMUSD parcel tax of approximately $346 annually. If the districts separate, Malibu residents would no longer pay the parcel tax, and all future funds collected under the existing parcel tax from Santa Monica residents would remain in Santa Monica and be used exclusively for Santa Monica schools.
Upon a district split, Malibu could then conceivably propose its own parcel tax, which would remain under the control of the new district. Separation proponents contend the past reluctance of Malibu voters to pass parcel tax measures might be overcome after a separation because, unlike prior proposals, funds from a Malibu parcel tax would go for Malibu children in Malibu schools.
Another main concern of the school board was the current infrastructure bond used to fund school improvements in both districts, Measure BB, passed by Malibu and Santa Monica in 2006 and based on property value assessments. A newly created Malibu school district would not have any legal obligation to pay off the remaining Measure BB bond, as it would cease to receive any further financial benefits from the current bond. As part of a separation agreement, Malibu might subsequently negotiate compensation with Santa Monica and continue to take responsibility for a pro-rata share of that bond.
Another alternative solution to the parcel tax and bond concerns was suggested by Rosenthal and LACOE in the execution of “spot legislation” similar to that of Assembly Bill 504. AB 504 was recently implemented in Santa Barbara authorizing any newly unified school district in the county to continue the collection of the parcel taxes originally imposed and collected in former school districts.
The general consensus among board members, however, was that more information is required to begin the examination of what a separate Malibu school district might look like. The board members and district staff are indicating that they will want their own research and analysis in addition to that provided by unification proponents.
For years, Malibu has been without representation on the school board because local candidates could not makes inroads with the voters of Santa Monica. As a result, residents contend they have been unable to have a direct say in local education policy.
Pro-separation activists contend that the citizens of Malibu want to manage their children’s education. They expect the planned community-wide public opinion assessment to support this view. Ultimately, if the Department of Education approves a unification plan, the final decision will rest in the hands of the voters in Malibu and, most likely, Santa Monica.

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