Malibu High School (File photo)


Despite a variety of potential fiscal and legal obstacles, splitting the Santa Monica-Malibu school district into two separate entities is feasible, according to the district’s financial oversight committee.

The committee did not analyze all criteria associated with dividing school districts and was not asked to determine whether separation is better for students, but it concluded that there are no major financial “deal-breakers” for creating distinct Santa Monica and Malibu districts.

Committee members presented their findings in a study session during the local Board of Education’s meeting Wednesday night, saying that separation is possible even in the face of numerous complicated challenges.

Their presentation came at a pivotal juncture for the district, which is in the process of allocating millions of dollars in bond money for facility and technology upgrades at SMMUSD sites while facing environmental concerns in Malibu and adjusting to a recently implemented centralized fundraising system.

Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, a nonprofit founded by current school board member Craig Foster, had originally hired education consulting firm WestEd to create a hypothetical budget for a Malibu-only district.

The school board’s direction to the financial oversight committee to look into the implications of separation allowed officials to access SMMUSD budgets and paint a more complete picture of two separate districts.

The committee’s studies took into account changes in state funding through the Local Control Funding Formula, extra costs associated with creating a new district, enrollment forecasts and staffing patterns, among other factors, officials said.

“We conclude that the financial picture for a separate Malibu school district and a separate Santa Monica school district would both be viable,” committee member Paul Silvern said.

Officials spoke of the dramatic progress the district has made on the issue of separation, a popular cause among Malibu parent groups for years.

Foster praised the committee for its work, noting the volunteer hours logged and the strong opinions that have characterized district debate in recent years.

“This is a hard subject,” he said. “A lot of people have a lot of feelings about it. Everybody who was involved put aside their feelings and just looked at the numbers, just looked at the legal (ramifications), and that’s not easy to do.”

Several Malibu residents spoke at the meeting, commending board and committee members for their efforts in analyzing the separation issue and reiterating their commitment to following through with it.

AMPS president Karen Farrer said the respective communities would be better off if they didn’t have to deal with each other’s distractions.

“Talk of separation has been going on for decades, so to see it officially acknowledged by the district reflects reality, and that’s a good thing,” she said. “The people of Malibu are completely serious about this issue.”

Added fellow Malibu activist Brian Ingram: “It’s really important to all of us that there’s continued strength behind this initiative.”

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, or on Twitter.

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