MALIBU — A group that wants to break up the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is ramping up its efforts by opening its first local office and hiring an employee to do community outreach and education in both communities.

Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, or AMPS, opened an office in the old Malibu City Hall Building on Stuart Ranch Road and brought on a full-time administrative coordinator, the organization announced this week.

In the past year, AMPS has funded studies, to be conducted by research consultant WestEd, to work out the details of separation. The group is expecting results of a second in-depth study of separation, working in cooperation with the SMMUSD board and all major stakeholders to evaluate the path towards separation.

Some Malibu residents have been working to leave the district for years, citing cultural differences between the two communities which are separated by 13 miles of coastline. The smaller, wealthier segment also feels that its needs are sometimes drowned out by the larger Santa Monica population, a sentiment bolstered by the fact that there hasn’t been a Malibu representative on the Board of Education since 2008.

Craig Foster, president of AMPS, said the office is a step in supporting public education in Malibu. He said the SMMUSD served a purpose decades ago when Malibu was less developed, but he feels the city is now capable of supporting its own schools fully.

“We have a different set of needs,” he said.

Separation, called “unification” in education parlance, is difficult to achieve, in part because the two districts must figure out a way to split property, much like a divorce. It’s also rarely done, meaning the district will be breaking new ground. That includes parcel taxes and bonded indebtedness, like the $385 million bond passed by voters in November 2012 to pay for new facilities at both Santa Monica and Malibu campuses.

Part of the friction with the Malibu community has been the fact that although they have less than 20 percent of the student body, homeowners there pay more than 30 percent of the property taxes that go into bonds.

With a separate school district, AMPS wants to create smaller class sizes, bring in new technologies to the classroom, have more resources for academically-struggling students, and more.

Laurie Lieberman, president of the school board, said she respected the group’s right to form its own district, but there is a lot of information that hasn’t been gathered yet. She said her colleagues on the school board have to look at the “financial viability” of the new district and what would remain if there was a split.

“We are trying to be cooperative and be open about what some of the studies reveal and at the same time, we’re moving ahead continuing to provide the best quality education we can in Malibu and Santa Monica,” Lieberman said.


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