Well, not so fast.
The already arduous process of possibly separating the local school district appeared to hit another snag last month as officials and community members debated the implications of new budget projections.
After analyzing data that reflected changes in state aid, the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s financial oversight committee concluded that splitting the district into Santa Monica and Malibu units is not fiscally viable.
The update, brought before the local Board of Education at its meeting Nov. 19, marked a clear departure from analysis of previous figures that led the committee to believe that there were no financial deal-breakers to separation.
A Malibu-only district would be stable, committee chair Joan Krenik said, but the remaining Santa Monica district’s budget would be “significantly worse” by itself. She said the new numbers pointed to a projected $2.8-million loss in 2015-16 alone.
Krenik’s report set off a long and at times contentious discussion among school board members, who mostly supported the idea of creating a separate Malibu district as long as there are no negative fiscal consequences for the remaining Santa Monica district.
The board’s subcommittee on separation, which is confusingly referred to as unification, planned to meet and return with suggestions for next steps.
An idea that has gained momentum in the district seemed stable in July, when the finance committee deemed separation to be feasible. But when district staff came forward in August with a new financial report on state funding, the committee was asked to revisit its analysis.
“Are both districts better off? The answer is, unfortunately, no,” committee member Debbie Mulvaney said. “With what we know about district finances, sound analysis clearly demonstrates that unification does not make financially prudent sense at this time.”
Committee member Tom Larmore said he’s backed the concept of separation but added that the new data forced him to reconsider.
“I’ve said many times that if there were no adverse consequences … it was a great thing to do, and I was for it,” he said. “When we realized the current situation it was, frankly, a disappointment to me.”
Parent activists turned out in large numbers to reiterate their support for a Malibu-only district, poking holes in the committee’s new analysis.
Committee member Seth Jacobson, a Malibu parent, noted that the findings are misleading because they don’t take into account several key factors, including ongoing litigation stemming from the discovery of toxins in the caulking at Malibu schools two years ago.
“There is no question in my mind that two parties negotiating together in good faith could work this out,” he said.
Board member Craig Foster, the former president of a group that continues to advocate for a Malibu-only district, expressed frustration at the lack of Malibu representation on the district finance committee and said the desires of people in his community aren’t being taken seriously.
“All the reasons Malibu needs its own school district are the same reasons it’s so bloody hard to get our own school district,” he said. “The road ahead is not as smooth as we had hoped.”
Board president Laurie Lieberman said she understands the concerns of the Malibu community but added that she needs more clarity and assurance before moving forward.
“We were all happy to hear that report [in July], and now things have changed,” she said. “It’s not because people went out looking to change the facts or change the answer.”
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.