Malibu parents want their own school district but based on the most recent Santa Monica – Malibu Unified School District Board meeting, the cost is still unknown.
On May 30, the SMMUSD Board of Education met at Malibu City Hall for a special meeting to discuss updated financial projects for potentially splitting the district in two (confusingly known as “unification”). After a year of work the most recent projections show a diminishing picture for a standalone Santa Monica School District and the Board is now faced with a tough decision over its commitment to a fiscally equitable split.
The Board has previously stated they support the community’s desire for the separation of Santa Monica and Malibu schools, as both cities are capable of providing positive educational opportunities. However, their support has been based on a requirement that a split does not have a negative impact on the financial condition of the remaining Santa Monica students.
Maria Leon-Vazquez said she recognizes the Malibu voices have gotten much louder in the past six or seven years. She said the process is taking longer than anyone would like because the finances are so complicated and if separated there is a strong possibility students within the Santa Monica community could lose programs or other educational benefits.
“Me being here has been to make sure we support all students no matter what their economic situation is,” said Leon-Vazquez. “As we move forward we need to make sure we look closer to the financial pieces of what the separation would look like.”
The report was presented by the six-member, Malibu Unification Negotiation Committee (MUNC). With three members representing Santa Monica and three representing Malibu, the group has researched and presented information regarding the advantages and disadvantages of each city having their own individual school district.
MUNC has documented the funding gap prior to Tuesday’s meeting and possible solutions include the Malibu community providing ‘alimony’ to Santa Monica to help fill the financial gap, known as “delta.”
However, in the report the MUNC was unable to determine how long payments should last or even how large a payment would be needed.
The Board has consistently asked for options that would allow the unification without a financial deficit for either district. Their hope was to find the perfect formula and answer from the MUNC. However, they were unable to provide the desired answer.
The report stated the delta will never go to zero in the future and said if the Board direction is to veto any split that does not cover delta every year then there is no solution and probably won’t be a solution. If the Board wants to go in a different direction, negotiators do not mind going back to find a different calculation.
“From someone who has been doing this for 34 years, I don’t believe it’s a reasonable expectation to expect a formula here that will go until the delta is eliminated,” said Janece Maez, Associate Superintendent Business & Fiscal Services CFO.
The MUNC made it clear the delta is based on assumptions and there is no definite answer that can be given as to its eventual total.
“The numbers vary so much by small changes in the asset values. At the end of the day, this is going to be a gut decision that the board needs to make without the analysis,” said Manel Sweetmore, MUNC member representing the Malibu team.
The Board did not express strong support for or against unification. However, many board members did express a commitment that all students within both district receive the best education possible.
Board member Craig Foster said, “I want to make sure Santa Monica is taken care of as well as Malibu.”
Board member Jon Kean was on the same page.
“What we are trying to do here is find a financial way to unwind a partnership without negatively impacting the students,” he said.
Malibu locals continue to express their strong dedication and commitment to separating from Santa Monica.
Malibu Mother, Desi Bradley said, “I have recognized a lot of disconnect from our two communities, it’s geographical and demographical.”
Councilmember Rick Mullen said this issue is one that unites all of Malibu City Council.
“We support community wide and all council members support an independent school district. I want to make it clear that everyone in Malibu is interested and dedicated to the idea of Malibu having its own school district,” he said.
As of now the school board is continuing on an exploratory path toward Malibu Unification with cautious optimism.
“They are committed to the original charge of MUNC to ensure that a SMUSD district will not suffer adverse financial harm in a separation, as they continue to work through the complex financial component of this process,” said SMMUSD Communications Officer Gail Pinsker. “The school board has and always will care about all students in SMMUSD.”
Tuesday’s meeting was a study session and the Board was not required to take any specific action. Discussions will continue and the topic will return to a formal Board meeting at an as yet unspecified date.