SMMUSD HDQTRS — A presentation by county officials to the Board of Education Thursday night left board members with more questions than they had answers about the cost and implications of Malibu schools leaving the district, and division on how to get more information.

Matt Spies, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Department of Education, walked board members and the public through “unification,” the convoluted process which would take the five schools located in Malibu and combine them into one unified school district.

Education advocates on the Malibu City Council and the parent group Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, AMPS, have been pushing for a separate Malibu district on the belief that Malibu and Santa Monica have different cultures and different educational needs.

Although Malibu has been treated well by the board, it’s inclusion in the district is a “geographic anachronism,” said Hans Laetz, a Malibu resident who has lived in the district for 15 years.

“It made sense 50 years ago, but it’s time for us to go our separate ways,” Laetz said.

Getting there is more difficult than an amiable, “Catch you on the flip side.”

There are few absolutes Spies could describe beyond that a successful unification effort in Malibu would have severe — but currently unquantifiable — impacts on facilities bonds and parcel taxes for the two districts.

According to Spies, Malibu would lose proceeds from a parcel tax as well as the obligation to pay for and receive benefits from the bond measure that’s currently being used to fund improvements at their high school.

On the other side of the coin, Santa Monicans would have to make up Malibu’s share of the bond payments, which would mean more money out of local pockets.

Even those outcomes weren’t certain. The bond payments decision could be negotiated as part of the break-up, Spies said.

Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal told the board that AMPS and other Malibu community members were willing to put up the cash to hire consultants and other experts to make that cost-benefit analysis more clear, but the board had to indicate a willingness to work with them.

“We will provide the money to do these studies. You would understand our reluctance to raise the money and spend it if you’re not going to work with us,” Rosenthal said.

Staff cautioned board members on moving ahead with the studies in conjunction with Malibu city officials or AMPS lest it give the impression that the board was giving the OK for Malibu to split from SMMUSD.

“It creates the perception that we’re ready to unify the district,” Superintendent Sandra Lyon told the board.

That didn’t concern board member Jose Escarce, who felt it was clear that soliciting information would not in any way imply an agreement to move forward with Malibu.

“The only thing that we can do without information is stay neutral or oppose this on principle,” Escarce said.

Board member Maria Leon Vasquez sided with staff on the basis that she didn’t want to move forward with Malibu toward a separation she did not support.

“It’s hard for me to work collaboratively in a process when I’m not in agreement,” she said.

Board members asked staff to determine what questions needed to be answered to have a meaningful discussion on impacts to Santa Monicans and to find out how much it will cost to have consultants do that research.

Applications for unification are first put to the County Committee on Reorganization, which would conduct a feasibility study based on nine criteria to determine the impacts on both the old district and the proposed district.

Those points involve proving that the districts would be financially feasible and that the quality of education would not go down, amongst others.

None of those criteria actually have to be met for the application to go to the state Department of Education for approval.

There, the application could languish for over a year if it has full support from both the petitioners — Malibu residents — and the Board of Education.

“If it’s controversial, good luck getting it on an agenda any time soon,” Spies said.

If the state entity shoots the proposal down, it stays dead.

If it’s approved, it will be put on the ballot for the next election. The state will have the ultimate authority on who votes in the election, be it Santa Monica and Malibu residents or only those in Malibu.

ashley@www.smdp.com

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