SMMUSD HDQTRS — The Board of Education is expected on Thursday to get details on the legal and procedural issues involved with taking the Malibu out of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

It will be the first time the board in its entirety will hear about the complex process of “unification,” a strange name for a mechanism that would actually split one district into two.

County officials will be on hand to lay out the process, and answer any questions the board may have, said Matt Spies, spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

“We’re going to take it from the perspective that the board knows nothing,” Spies said.

Residents of Malibu and their elected officials began exploring the concept in October as one of several means to fix perceived problems with the existing system, including a lack of representation on the Board of Education and the feeling that the two communities have different cultures. The seven-member Board of Education has not included a Malibu resident since Kathy Wisnicki chose not to run for re-election in 2008.

They haven’t chosen an easy route.

Unification is a difficult row to hoe, and comes with major monetary implications for both the original district and its potential offshoot.

The process can span several years, going first before the county’s Committee on District Reorganization and then to the state Department of Education either with the approval of the county body or on appeal.

It takes about a year to get the matter heard by the Department of Education, and its vote is final.

If approved, unification would pop up on the ballot in the next election. It would be up to the county Office of Education to recommend who could 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, with the largest monetary losses accruing in the new Malibu district.

First, the parcel taxes passed to support the schools would not extend to the new school district in Malibu, Spies said.

Second, the new Malibu district would not have any obligation to pay off the $299 million Measure BB bond, but it also wouldn’t get any of the measure’s benefits.

SMMUSD is currently making improvements to Malibu High School using bond funds.

All of the bond payments would fall on the shoulders of Santa Monica residents.

Measure BB has been a sore spot for Malibu residents who pay a disproportionate share of the money because of their higher land values.

Those eventualities are several years in the future if the drive gets that far.

There are two ways to begin unification. The first is through a petition, which would require signatures from 25 percent of the Malibu electorate in support of the move.

Alternatively, the Board of Education could agree to work with Malibu and authorize the split.

That’s the road that activists in Malibu are hoping for, said Craig Foster, a parent of a child in Webster Elementary and member of community group Advocates for Malibu Public Schools.

Unification is complicated and requires a great deal of research and negotiating to ensure that the outcome is the best for both districts, Foster said.

“We won’t fully know the implications until we sit down and start working through this,” he said.

If it turns out that it’s not the right route, Malibu activists will move on to other strategies.

“What we’re trying to do is find the simplest, most efficient way to get every kid in the district the education they deserve,” Foster said.

Rosenthal believes that unification could be the best route to achieve Malibu’s goals, although other options such as creating a trustee voting system that would ensure Malibu representation or the formation of charter schools are not off the table.

“I think I could say that would be the preferable route if the financial numbers work out for both communities as well as the educational goals,” Rosenthal said.

The SMMUSD Board of Education meeting will take place today at district headquarters, 1651 16th St., Santa Monica. The secession issue is expected to be discussed at 7:10 p.m. For more information go to

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