MALIBU CITY HALL — Revolutionary fervor gripped the Board of Education meeting Thursday as Malibu residents protested their lack of representation in a district they say is disproportionately funded by their taxes.
Malibu city officials and school parents issued the call to arms during the public comment portion of the meeting, demanding a seat at the table on discussions that impact their children’s education.
At present, all seven board members come from Santa Monica, and only two meetings have been held in Malibu since March.
“Malibu feels like a colony, an appendage of Santa Monica,” said City Councilmember Lou La Monte. “There are so many critical issues coming up now, and we need to be included.”
La Monte and other speakers pushed the board to create an advisory position for a Malibu representative, which would allow them to express their views in more than two and three-minute speeches allowed from the podium.
Advisory positions already exist for student representatives of Malibu, Olympic and Santa Monica high schools. Those student members can join in discussion and cast an uncounted vote.
That’s the role that Malibu residents are asking for, at least at the outset.
If not, La Monte said, they would be forced to try to find another remedy in court.
“Malibu has the will and the resources to achieve it,” he said.
In keeping with the tenor of the speech, subsequent speakers evoked American revolution giant Thomas Paine and James Madison’s Federalist Paper 51.
La Monte intended to include a more conciliatory message in his presentation, but that got axed when board members reduced the public comment time to two minutes per person rather than the usual three.
“It was strange because the message was about being heard, and they limited us to two minutes,” La Monte said. “It was another message sent that they didn’t want to spend 12 extra minutes hearing us.”
The discontent expressed at the meeting arose from a conversation about districtwide fundraising that has begun at the district level and at the Parent Teacher Association, said Seth Jacobson, a Malibu parent and co-chair of a fundraising body called the Shark Fund.
Right now, each school site raises money through its PTA or Booster Club. That money pays for sundries like copy machines and even salaries and benefits for instructional aides and other teachers.
Districtwide fundraising could mean that the large amount of money raised by Malibu schools would be distributed to other schools less capable of raising capital.
It’s a big decision, and one that would be made without a Malibu presence on the board or in any of the major advisory councils of the district that have a Malibu resident, Jacobson said.
“There’s an overwhelming sense that here goes Santa Monica again, doing a land grab,” Jacobson said.
The issue of representation has long been a source of friction between the two communities.
Malibu has 18 percent of the students, but raises over 30 percent of parcel tax money because of higher property taxes.
Even so, the population differential between Malibu and Santa Monica is so great that if every single Malibu resident voted for one candidate, it would still not be enough to get that person elected to the Board of Education.
As a result, Malibu residents feel disconnected from the rest of the district, called upon only when there’s bad news — like budget cuts — or for major fundraising efforts.
With few local meetings, no district presence and only a handful of Malibu residents on the dozens of district advisory committees, Malibu often feels like the redheaded stepchild of Santa Monica, speakers told the board.
The advisory position would be a jumping off point to help rectify that imbalance, Jacobson told the board Thursday.
“All of you said you would do anything you could to make Malibu an equal partner,” Jacobson said. “This is something you could do.”
Eventually, Jacobson said, Malibu residents would like to see the system used to elect members to the Board of Education change to a model based on geographic districts to ensure that Malibu always has one member on the board.
In his speech, La Monte put forth two more extreme courses of action — either to bring the matter to the courts or form Malibu’s own school district.
The time for Santa Monica and Malibu to go their separate ways may be on the horizon if the problems revolving around representation cannot be solved, said Ben Allen, the vice chair of the Board of Education.
“The board and I are committed to doing right by Malibu,” Allen said. “I just think that in the long term, these representation issues are never going to go away.”
Malibu just celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. In its nascent stages, students traveled from Malibu to Santa Monica to attend high school.
Eventually, the city got its own campus, and established itself as a political entity, Allen said.
“Circumstances have changed. As they grow as a community, and as Malibu has more experience as a separate political entity, it makes more and more sense for them to go out on their own,” Allen said.
Although secession is on the table, it’s many years out and too early to discuss now, La Monte said. Advisory representation would be a good place to begin.
“A positive step would be to put it on the agenda to discuss it,” he said.