MALIBU — As the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Board of Education prepares to vote on a $385 million bond measure Wednesday to upgrade district facilities, several active Malibu community members contend that their voice was largely ignored during the discussion process about the bond.
Three of the 24 members listed on the district’s Economic Feasibility Committee that recommended the bond are Malibu residents: Michael Sidley, Ralph Erickson and Seth Jacobson. Of the three, Erickson is the only one who attended meetings and helped advise the school board to place a bond measure on the November ballot.
Members of the Economic Feasibility Committee were appointed at a school board meeting on Nov. 3, 2011. Sidley said his name is listed on the roster by mistake. He said he has not participated on an economic committee for the district since 2010.
Jacobson, a frequent presence at board of education meetings, said he was never notified of his appointment to the feasibility committee. He is the vice president of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS), a group of local parents and education activists who are pushing for Malibu to separate from Santa Monica and create its own school district. Jacobson’s name was left off of the committee’s e-mail announce list, leaving him in the dark about the committee meetings that took place throughout the year.
“What’s so unusual about it is, for the four or five months they were meeting, I was never notified,” Jacobson said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been up in front of the council or Board of Education during that time.”
In an e-mail sent to Jacobson on Thursday last week, SMMUSD Superintendent Sandra Lyon apologized for the miscommunication on behalf of the school district. She admitted to the district’s mistake in not notifying Jacobson that he had been appointed to the Economic Feasibility Committee.
“There was no ill intent on the part of our office,” Lyon wrote. “I know that your voice on that committee would have been extremely valuable and important and we all would have benefited from your participation.”
Lyon told The Malibu Times that when the committee was formed in November, she was still getting accustomed to her job as superintendent and the committee appointment process. She was appointed to the job in May 2011 and began her work in July 2011.
“In hindsight, I wish we had had [another] Malibu voice on the committee,” Lyon said.
AMPS is a major advocate for Malibu becoming an independent school district. Should the bond be placed on the ballot and receive 55 percent of the vote, advocates for the separation will face a large hurdle in dividing up the bond money and navigating state law during the separation process.
“Obviously the desire of members of the Mailbu community who want it to be its own district continues to impact a lot of decision-making, but I’m not sure any of us can completely quantify what the effect would be,” Lyon said.
Erickson, the sole Malibu representative on the feasibility committee, has long been involved with other committees in the district. He said he made sure Malibu received a fair cut in the proposed bond.
“I pointed out strongly to members that there certainly had to be much consideration given to including projects in Malibu and I think that was well received,” Erickson said.
Erickson is not involved with AMPS and said he supports a school district separation only if it is financially feasible. Without Jacobson aware of or present at the meetings, AMPS did not have any representative on the economic committee.
The committee’s recommended bond allocates $77 million to Malibu, or 20 percent of the bond money. Malibu taxpayers would foot approximately 31 percent of the bond money over the next 25 to 30 years if the bond passes. Because of this, some believe Malibu should receive 31 percent of the bond money.
“[Malibu] came out exceptionally well if you compare the unmet needs from the facilities standpoint in Santa Monica with the unmet needs of facilities in Malibu,” Committee Chair Neil Carrey said. “There’s no way that people would agree that they should get 31 percent. That’s not the way the district runs.”
One behind-the-scenes participant was Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal, who said she spoke with Carrey “three or four times” during the two to three weeks before the committee made its recommendation to the school board. Rosenthal also serves as the City Council liaison to AMPS.
“I did have good talks with Neil,” Rosenthal said. “I just wish that Malibu people were brought in earlier in the process.”
Rosenthal and Erickson played a key role in suggesting Malibu schools receive 20 percent of the bond money, Carrey said.
“The implication that was made was Malibu didn’t have representation and therefore was not treated fairly,” Carrey said. “That’s absolute and utter nonsense when you’ve been given 20 percent of the money.”
On Wednesday, the board will meet in Malibu to vote on a resolution to have the bond measure placed on the November general election ballot.
This story first appeared in the Malibu Times.