Malibu High School (File photo)

 

Separation of the area school district into Santa Monica and Malibu factions seems to be turning into a “not if, but when”issue.

At its meeting Wednesday night, the local Board of Education will hear reports from the district’s Financial Oversight Committee on the fiscal ramifications of potentially splitting the Santa Monica-Malibu school district into two distinct entities.

The study session will mark a major step in the district’s handling of separation, a complicated issue that has been bubbling for months among officials and stakeholders.

The oversight committee’s presentation will come as it unveils its annual report and offers its observations on SMMUSD financial matters. The presentation will likely include a review of how separation would impact the district budget as well as bond measures and workforce.

Separation — sometimes confusingly referred to as unification — has become a hot topic in the district, particularly among Malibu groups that have felt increasingly ostracized by the administration. They have expressed dissatisfaction not only with the district’s handling of chemical testing and cleanup at Malibu schools, but also with its recently implemented centralized fundraising system.

Separation gained momentum about a year ago, when the school board asked the oversight committee to weigh the fiscal consequences of dividing the district. The committee was tasked with looking into the potential splitting of assets and liabilities as well as possible impacts on operational costs.

The issue resurfaced last month when the school board considered hiring law firm Dannis Woliver Kelley to build on the committee’s findings and chart a plan for separation with board-approved checkpoints.

Board approval of a contract with the firm is contingent on the signing of an agreement with Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, a nonprofit group that has verbally agreed to cover some district costs associated with exploring separation, officials said.

Malibu voices have earned larger platforms in recent months, buoyed by the election of Craig Foster to the school board in November. Foster is a founding member and former president of AMPS.

The advocacy group is now helmed by Karen Farrer, a Malibu parent who has served in a variety of PTA leadership positions. In an email Sunday, Farrer urged supporters of separation to attend Wednesday night’s meeting.

The district’s financial oversight committee also has strong Malibu representation. Chaired by Shelly Slaugh Nahass, the 11-member panel is responsible for reviewing budgetary and other financial matters in the district and recommending action to the school board.

Its roster currently includes Seth Jacobson, a Malibu resident and former school board candidate who has served in PTA roles at two Malibu elementary schools. Jacobson was appointed to the oversight committee in March.

The committee also features Manel Sweetmore, an AMPS board member. The committee nominated Sweetmore, whose term officially ended June 30, for reappointment on June 18. He is expected to be approved for appointment by the school board at Wednesday night’s meeting.

The public meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., and the study of SMMUSD separation is slated for 7 p.m.

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

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