It’s the first day of the 2015-2016 school year in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, meaning thousands of students will begin familiarizing themselves with new classrooms, teachers and course materials.

As the children get into their daily routines, the Daily Press takes a look at big-picture issues facing the district, including the achievement gap, centralized fundraising, facility improvement projects and the possible separation of SMMUSD.


Achievement gap

Towards the end of the 2014-2015 school year, officials presented the Board of Education with data confirming what they already knew: African American and Latino students rank behind their peers on a variety of achievement measures.

District executives resolved to address the issue, which was emphasized in Superintendent Sandra Lyon’s welcome letter to families ahead of the 2015-2016 school year.

The district has hired renowned scholar Pedro Noguera as a consultant to address the achievement gap and race relations on SMMUSD campuses. Noguera has worked with other educational institutions before, but it remains to be seen what impact his work will have on the climate at local schools.


SMMEF fundraising

Last year was a major transition phase for the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, which is tasked with raising money to support programs across the school district.

The district’s recently implemented and much-debated centralized fundraising system generated about $2.36 million in a 17-month cycle that ended June 30, well short of the stated goal of $4 million.

This coming year, SMMEF money will support arts programming and instructional assistants in elementary schools as well as enrichment grants for students in all grades. Literacy coaches and professional development, previously funded by the foundation, will now be covered through the district’s general fund.


Facility upgrades

The $385 million in Measure ES bonds that voters approved three years ago will make an impact across the district this coming year.

About $180 million was deemed necessary for wide-ranging projects at Santa Monica High School, which is unveiling its new science and innovation building this school year. The measure also guarantees 20 percent (roughly $77 million) for upgrades at the various Malibu sites.

Last year, the school board designated $34 million for a variety of technological improvements across the district. About $93 million remained unallocated as of earlier this year.


District separation

Malibu schools are still part of SMMUSD … for now, at least.

Malibu parent groups have been leading an effort to create a separate district for Malibu sites, and the school board recently heard an update on the potential fiscal impacts of a split.

Frustrated by the district’s handling of environmental cleanup following the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls at Malibu schools and dissatisfied with the district’s new fundraising model, many Malibu stakeholders believe separation would be beneficial for both cities.

Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, a nonprofit founded by Craig Foster before he won a seat on the school board, has verbally agreed to cover costs associated with analyzing the financial ramifications.

The road to a possible split is complex, but there appears to be significant momentum for exploring it as a real option.


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