As the midnight hour tolled on the morning of Halloween, Malibu parents, activists and educators made their way wearily into bed following a six-hour school board meeting with just one thing on the agenda: separation.

The meeting, which ended just after 11 p.m. on Monday night, also spelled out an even less certain future for advocates of an independent Malibu school district. Board leaders decided to scrap the carefully constructed separation roadmap, suggesting Malibu keep cash flowing for 50-plus years or halt separation indefinitely.

“Almost two years ago, you gave [The Malibu Unification Negotiation Committee] … a task … you wrote that ‘We believe in two separate school districts, and go forth and find a way to make it happen financially,’” Malibu City Council Member Laura Rosenthal, also a member of the MUNC, recounted to the Board of Education on Monday night.

“But you all agreed you believe in two separate school districts, and we went forth and we found a way.”

Rosenthal and her five counterparts on the negotiation committee predicted Malibu school funding would skyrocket after separation, while Santa Monica students’ funding was predicted to crawl upward as years go on.

But the sticking point for Santa Monica parents (and many of the seven board of education members) was the comparison between the funding available to Santa Monica students compared to what they would receive in a unified district, still receiving money from Malibu—the figures had Santa Monica’s students enjoying much more cash while attached to Malibu.

School Board Member Maria Leon-Vazquez replied to Rosenthal, explaining that the solution found was not viable for Santa Monica.

Pointing to a chart provided by School Services, a consultant that drew up a different separation plan with similar overall results for funding between the two districts, Leon-Vazquez said it was clear there was no possibility given the provided data that Santa Monica would be better off without Malibu.

“There’s never going to be a point where if we’d have stayed as a combined district—that [Santa Monica School District] would ever even get to that point,” Leon-Vazquez said.

Passionate arguments were made on either side of the debate, from all five members of the Malibu City Council and the leaders of several parent groups representing Santa Monica schools, among other parents and faculty members from both cities.

Perhaps the most passionate show of emotion came near the end of the meeting, when Leon-Vazquez intimated the Malibu City Council had acted in ill-will when the group submitted their signatures to the Los Angeles County Office of Education to kick-start the separation review process, apart from the school board’s recommendations.

John Kean, the shortest-serving school board member, made a suggestion that the school district should make an effort to find out what separation would really mean for Malibu students.

“I think there are strong benefits to us staying together to kids in Malibu,” Kean said. “I think we don’t talk about that enough, and I think we should have that as well, as part of that discussion.

Leon-Vazquez implied Malibu did not deserve the consideration.

“I would go down that route if city council had not filed their petition, but they did,” Leon-Vazquez said.

“Are you kidding me?” School Board Member Craig Foster replied, turning to Leon-Vazquez, seated next to him, and raising his voice. “Are you kidding me? You’re the one who talked to [Malibu City Council Member] Lou La Monte and said, ‘File it.

’” Foster gestured out to where La Monte was sitting in the audience.

“Yes, file it, but it goes parallel to it,” Leon-Vazquez replied.

“Oh my God,” Foster replied, standing and walking toward the exit.

“It delays it,” Leon-Vazquez replied, then turned to Foster. “Go ahead, just leave, Craig. Just leave,” she said.
Then members of Malibu City Council raised their voices from the audience.

“Maria, you told both of us to do it,” Rosenthal said.

“Why are you lying?” Mayor Skylar Peak shot to Leon-Vazquez.

“I’m not lying!” Leon-Vazquez replied, saying she thought their discussion included filing the AMPS-collected signatures.
After a few tense moments, the meeting calmed down and Foster returned. Board Members then decided to follow Kean’s suggestion and explore Malibu’s feelings about various options for the SMMUSD going into the future.

Foster summarized the board’s final decision in a later email shared with The Malibu Times:

“The board did not approve the proposed MUNC financial transition structure.

They did not believe the proposed payments from Malibu lasted long enough.

Instead, the board instructed Superintendent [Dr. Ben] Drati to approach the major Malibu stakeholders (Malibu City Council, AMPS and Malibu Schools Leadership Council (MSLC)) to discuss the possibility of what was called ‘Plan A,’ [an] arrangement for SMMUSD to create sufficient autonomy for Malibu within the current district.

Failing that or in addition, the board directed that at the Nov. 16 board meeting there would be additional information and a board discussion of what financial structure and term would be acceptable to the board to facilitate complete separation (aka ‘Plan B’).”

This story was first reported by the Malibu Times and is reprinted here as part of a partnership between the two papers.

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