SMMUSD HDQTRS — A group of Malibu parents and teachers that wants to turn Point Dume Marine Science Academy into a charter school lacks a sound financial plan and sufficient experience operating a school, according to a school district report that urges board members to reject the group’s charter school application.

The seven-member Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board will decide on Thursday whether to accept the district staff’s advice or to permit the Malibu group to move ahead with plans to transform the award-winning campus into a charter school that operates independently from district oversight.

The district’s recommendation, signed by Superintendent Tim Cuneo, takes issue with virtually every aspect of the Point Dume group’s petition, saying it lacks “a realistic and sound financial and operating plan” and presents an instructional program that “is inconsistent with sound educational practice.”

The proposed budget for the campus is $400,000 short of what would be needed to pay for the staff the petitioners expect to hire, the report stated. And the petition also fails to adequately “address the needs of pupils who are not achieving at or above expected levels, students with disabilities, English learners, [and] students achieving substantially above or below grade level expectations,” according to the SMMUSD.

Ali Thonson, a Malibu parent and one of the lead petitioners behind the charter conversion effort, on Tuesday said she was disappointed with the district’s assessment but believed its views were mistaken. She said she hoped the board would reject the recommendation and approve the charter.

“This is a staff recommendation only, and I am very confident in the type of communication and relationships that we’ve built with each board member,” she said. “I do hope that they give us the time to refute a lot of the misinformation that is in the staff findings.”

She said her group has received commitments for $500,000 in annual gifts to Point Dume that would make up for any shortfall the district has noted in the school’s three-year budget plan.

Her group is prepared to appeal the SMMUSD board’s decision to the Los Angeles County Office of Education and then to the State Board of Education if necessary, she said.

The Malibu group submitted its charter conversion petition in October after citing concerns the district may close Point Dume because of declining enrollment and state budget cuts could negatively affect the quality of the school’s programs.

In urging the board to deny the petition, district staff took issue with those motivations.

“Petitioners’ fears are unfounded and do not provide a basis for the conversion of the school to charter status … . To the contrary, the district has committed extensive funding and support to the school site far beyond what the school site generates in per pupil funding,” the report stated.

Above what the state provides in education dollars, the SMMUSD receives money from the city of Santa Monica, the city of Malibu, the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, the district-wide PTA and voter-approved parcel taxes. It is likely to get a new boost beginning next year from Measure Y, the recently approved Santa Monica sales tax increase.

According to the district, Point Dume would lose out on its share of these revenue enhancements if converted to a charter, leading to reduced services and resources at the school.

But Robyn Ross, a past president of the Point Dume PTA and another lead petitioner, said while the group didn’t rely on any of the district’s revenue enhancements to come up with a budget, it’s possible the potential charter school could have a claim on some of the funding sources the district claimed would be off limits.

“We do feel like we would be entitled to some of [them] because we would still be a public school and that’s what the money is intended for,” she said, though she added Point Dume does not plan to ask for a share of money raised from Measure Y.

She said the charter school’s proposed budget also did not include funds raised by the Point Dume PTA, which typically pays for school programs including art and music and covers the salaries of teacher aides.

Outgoing school board president Barry Snell said he expects the petitioners’ proposed budget plan to be front and center as the board weighs its decision on Thursday.

“Financial issues have always been an area of concern,” he said.

Addressing the petitioners’ statements that Malibu locals could raise hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to support the school, he said: “I realize that this is an area of our community that is wealthy, but I also believe that we have to [base our decision on] the petition.”

Snell declined to say which way he was leaning but called the charter school petition “the biggest public school issue since the opening of Malibu High School.”

“It’ll be an interesting meeting, but at this point I still haven’t made a decision,” he said.

For her part, Thonson said charter school supporters plan to continue to make their case to the school board.

“We’re in the process of preparing responses right now and we absolutely intend to reach out to board members,” she said. “I really do believe that this is something that they have taken the time to educate themselves about … . I really hope that that will continue within the next few days.”

nickt@smdp.com

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