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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Publisher’s Notebook

• Unification: Vox Populi •

BY ANNE SOBLE

There are now some numbers that begin to address the financial feasibility of a separate Malibu school district. This is a good start but there will have to be more research to continue to refine those numbers to a point where they represent the potential start-up and operational costs for a 90265-education system.
Creation of a Malibu school district is not just about the math. At the same time the number-crunching is occurring, statistically valid public opinion polling should get underway to assess the support for a separate district in the City of Malibu and unincorporated Malibu. Until there has been random sample polling and a total population survey that ensures candor and protects identities, proponents do not know whether they have to sell their neighbors on the proposal first.
Because there is so much enthusiasm and energy in the pro-separation movement, it is easy to overlook that not everyone may want to leave the SMMUSD. So far, there are only murmurs of disagreement, but no one knows their extent. Some concern comes from families with school-age children who worry about the overall quality of education in a smaller district. Other concern has to do with continuation of costly and staff-intensive special education programs.
Some parents ask if enrollment continues to decline, will an MUSD follow SMMUSD and SMC in seeking out-of-district students to increase enrollment, and require local property owners to pick up their tab?
What about bond measures? Will it suffice to tell voters that property values correlate with a strong school system when many of today’s retirees face increased uncertainty? Given limited local demographics, senior exemptions might be much less likely.
Then there are those asking whether the MUSD budgetary needs will foster pro-development city public policy that promotes residential upzoning to expand student rolls and increased commercial density.
Pro-groups see the unification objective as apolitical, but not all citizens agree. There are those who object to strong city influence on education, either because they don’t live in the city and fear having less say, or expect the district to become engulfed in city politics.
Still others ask about school board elections. There are rarely many city council candidates, so some worry there might be a limited number of board candidates. Will campaign coffers also dictate these races? What about the pool of superintendent and key administration applicants? Would housing and vehicles be provided?
In this vein, one also might ask could the school district become a similar revolving door to City Hall with the same people rotating city titles, and might these city posts even intertwine with school district posts and be added to the current number of “titles” being rotated?
Words count more than numbers do when the time arrives for final decisions about unification. Work on the numbers and find out what’s on people’s minds at the same time. Without the latter, the former won’t add up.

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