MALIBU — At the last Board of Education meeting held in Malibu, residents and council members employed language from the American Revolution to request an advisory seat at the dais.
Now, it’s looking more like secession.
Malibu officials have begun exploring the possibility of leaving the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and forming a separate school entity, according to a spokesperson with the Los Angeles County Department of Education.
Malibu City Mayor Pro Tem Laura Zahn Rosenthal and Councilmember Lou La Monte, both members of the Malibu City Council’s school subcommittee, are looking into the issue, Rosenthal said.
They meet with county officials next week.
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea, and no one knows if it would work out,” Rosenthal said.
The move would be the beginning of a long, complicated process that has already been attempted twice before, first in 2004 and then again in 2008, when the division of $299 million in bond money from Measure BB and other capital funds became contentious.
According to Matt Spies, spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Department of Education, division can start in one of two ways.
The first is by submitting a petition signed by 25 percent of the Malibu electorate. That would take time and work with the county to simply draft the petition, and then go and gather the required signatures.
The second is by a resolution passed by the Board of Education itself, authorizing the split.
“As I understand it, and I’m not the person who’s spoken to them thus far on this, they intend to obtain the governing board’s buy in on this,” Spies said.
That resolution would remove the petition requirement, and clear the way for the request to go before the county’s Committee on School District Reorganization.
If the petition method is used, the county superintendent has 30 days to verify the signatures. Then it goes to the committee on reorganization, which has 60 days to hold public hearings, and then another 120 days to make a recommendation to approve or deny the proposal.
To help with the analysis, county staff draft a study looking at nine specific conditions, including whether or not the move would negatively impact educational programming for either district, promote segregation of races or have a negative fiscal impact on either district.
“They might look at how much parcel tax money is pulled away compared to the amount of students,” said Larry Shirey, spokesperson for the California Department of Education.
It also examines bond debt, he said.
Money has long been a bone of contention in the debate over schools between the residents of Santa Monica and Malibu, with Malibu residents claiming they pay more than their fair share for the infrastructure bond — Measure BB.
According to figures from the 2010-11 school year, Malibu residents do pay in more for the bond measure.
Bonds are based on the assessed value of property in the area. Although Malibu accounts for 31 percent of the bond revenue by that calculation, it has only 17 percent of the students, said Jan Maez.
Parcel taxes, which are assessed equally on each parcel, are also nominally Malibu-heavy by percentage, with 23 percent of parcels in Malibu and 77 percent in Santa Monica.
The difference, Maez said, comes in the amount of money each municipality gives to the district through joint-use agreements for facilities like playing fields.
The long-standing master facilities agreement between SMMUSD and the district yielded $7.9 million last year, and the new half-cent transaction and use tax — assessed only in Santa Monica — accounts for another $5.5 million.
That’s roughly $13.4 million each year funneled into the district to benefit all schools, both inside and outside Santa Monica city limits.
In contrast, Malibu’s joint-use agreement brings in $118,000 in revenue.
The Committee on District Reorganization can recommend that the proposal move forward, whether or not the conditions are met, Spies said.
If they choose to deny the recommendation, the decision can still be appealed to the state Department of Education.
That body can then decide to approve or deny the proposal.
It takes about a year to get it heard by the state Department of Education.
“If they vote it down, it’s a dead issue,” Spies said. There is no appeal.
If it’s approved, the matter will appear on the ballot in the next election. The county Office of Education would then make a recommendation on who would be able to vote on the issue — Malibu and Santa Monica residents or just those in Malibu — and the state would either accept that recommendation or make its own.
A reorganization would have immediate impacts on both the old and new district. Two parcel taxes, combined into Measure R in 2010, would cease to be collected, striking a significant financial blow to both districts at a time when the state’s coffers are lean. The bond liability would be divided between the two areas. The buildings would go to the new Malibu district, without compensation to the Santa Monica district.
A successful reorganization is rare, Spies said.
“This is the first time I’m aware of in many years, or decades, that this has been brought forward or considered,” Spies said. “Usually it’s just a transfer of territory to one district or another.”
The idea is still in its earliest stages, Rosenthal said, although she personally believes there are a number of “compelling reasons” to split.
“I look forward to a really good, thorough analysis that the district has been unable or unwilling to do,” Rosenthal said.