CITY HALL — The Malibu City Council unanimously endorsed a move by its school subcommittee to start a process that could end in Malibu’s secession from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Mayor Laura Zahn Rosendahl and Mayor Pro Tem Lou La Monte requested the council’s support Monday in pursuing a joint petition between the City of Malibu, City of Santa Monica and Board of Education to request a feasibility study for a new district.
It is high time for the three entities to work together to see if a separate Malibu Unified is a viable option, Rosenthal said.
“We’re asking for consensus, and we hope we get unanimous support from the City Council to go forward,” Rosenthal said.
Support from all three entities would help the proposal at the county level, said Matt Spies, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Department of Education.
The department will be responsible for studying the proposal to see if it’s feasible for the districts to separate.
The county would want to see buy-in from all of the players involved, including the school board, both city councils and influential parties like the Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club, Spies said.
Getting the support of all of the entities removes the requirement to get the petition signed by 25 percent of Malibu’s voters, a stumbling block that has hampered Malibu’s efforts to secede from the district in the past.
“It’s almost back-up support materials,” he said. “It shows that they talked to everyone else that are major players in the community. Otherwise, you end up with splintering, contentious situations with claims being made and refuted.”
If there is opposition, it could hurt the petition.
The proposal brought out a crowd of supporters from the Malibu community, which has been agitating recently to get more representation in the SMMUSD, particularly in the face of a proposal to consolidate most fundraising in the district into a single entity, rather than allow parents to spend freely at their school of choice.
Malibu residents’ experience in the district has fallen short, said Craig Foster, a member of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, or AMPS.
“Together we can build a district to attract families back to our schools,” he said.
The support of the parent community will be essential to the effort, as they will have to bankroll the consultants and any other costs needed to build a strong proposal.
No city money can be put into the creation of the new school district, said Malibu City Attorney Christi Hogin, calling it a misappropriation of public funds.
Of the nearly 10 people who spoke, only one voiced any opposition to the plan.
Attorney Mike Sidley called the petition “ill conceived.”
“We have excellent public schools, there’s no reason to upset the apple cart,” Sidley said. “I have yet to see any program which kids have been denied.”
Chief on Sidley’s mind was the nearly $14 million that the City of Santa Monica funnels into the school district through two joint-use agreements, money that also goes to Malibu schools.
“I really don’t think we can ever come close to matching the funds and resources put in the school district by Santa Monica,” Sidley said Tuesday.
Malibu has never garnered enough support to pass a parcel tax for the schools, something which could be a problem given that the two parcel taxes passed by the communities for the schools will expire if Malibu splits.
Sidley asked the council to reject the petition and focus its efforts on making the terms of districtwide fundraising palatable to Malibu residents.
The petition process would be in large part a fact-finding mission, Rosenthal told the council.
“We don’t know what the money issues are,” Rosenthal said, going on to say that Malibu has a monetary stake in the district as well through parcel taxes and a $149,000 joint use agreement with the district.
That lack of clarity spoke to council members, who have watched two previous efforts to separate from the district bubble up and fail.
“We need to do our due diligence, go step by step and we need information. Anything we can do to get that, I’m in support of,” said Councilmember John Sibert.
The council endorsed the petition unanimously. Once it’s been turned in, the county has 60 days to decide whether or not to pursue a feasibility study.