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With Santa Monica High School set to receive the bulk of the money that voters approved for the district through Measure ES, the education board is now tasked with deciding exactly how much to allocate and which projects to pursue.

Members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board spent big portions of Thursday’s meeting receiving updates on the bond, listening to passionate testimony from parents and debating the amount that Samohi should receive.

Staff recommended an initial allocation of $180 million for the district’s biggest high school — nearly half of the $385 million provided through the 2012 measure — and the board generally supported it after considering setting aside even more for a campus that officials say is in desperate need of facility upgrades.

The board did not take definitive action on the matter Thursday.

Board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein set off the debate over Measure ES money to Santa Monica High School by advocating for an allocation of $200 million.

Fellow board member Oscar de la Torre, a Samohi alumnus, also supported a bigger slice for the school.

“We have to make a wise choice, wise investments, so when (community members) start seeing the fruits of the labor, they feel empowered by what can happen at Santa Monica High and throughout the district,” he said.

Other board members expressed reservations about increasing Samohi’s portion of Measure ES funding.

Board member Jose Escarce, whose three children graduated from Santa Monica High, said he doesn’t want to support a $200-million allocation until he has a better idea of how far $180 million can go.

About $77 million in Measure ES funds has been set aside for Malibu sites, and an additional $34 million is already being spent on technology improvements throughout the district. Roughly $93 million of the bond money has not been allocated yet.

“I’d like to assess the other needs in the district before we do anything,” Escarce said.

Board member Craig Foster also supported the staff recommendation, adding that the board could possibly increase Samohi’s portion at a later date.

Board president Laurie Lieberman acknowledged a variety of other funding concerns in the district, including a Measure BB shortfall, indoor air quality, environmental concerns and shifting enrollment patterns.

“We don’t even understand fully what the needs of the district are,” she said. “It seems irresponsible to say we’re going to leave almost nothing (for the rest of the district).”

Exactly how the Samohi allocation will be spent remains to be seen. Among the possible considerations are improvements in classroom buildings, athletic facilities and parking.

The district plans to draft a contract for architect Rebecca Binder by the March 5 board meeting so work can begin quickly on creating and implementing a Samohi plan.

Binder is expected to consult with a working group that will include site administrators and staff, a planning expert and a parent representative. A Samohi advisory committee of educators, parents, students and district officials will also provide input.

Upgrades at Samohi are expected to take at least a decade, officials said.

Joan Krenik, president of the high school’s PTA, urged the board to follow through on the staff recommendation. She cited the need for more gym space as well as facilities such as a business building and student support center.

“This is a pivotal moment for Samohi,” she said.

Jeff Finklestein, president of the Viking Fund athletic booster club, said he noticed the importance of the high school to the community while attending his freshman son’s recent basketball game on campus.

“There were people everywhere,” he said. “I realized that Samohi is the hub of our community from all four corners.”

Another parent, Karen Melick, said her son avoids going to the bathroom during the school day because of the state of the facilities.

“It’s too late for my son,” she said, “but work must be done for future students.”

Added Shari Davis: “Our students tolerate their campus, but they deserve better. Think about Samohi in the context of the geography of Santa Monica. It’s supposed to be a source of pride and a symbol of excellence. Make it a space that reflects our societal values.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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