Following the filing of a lawsuit earlier this week challenging the manner in which Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education members are elected, the three appointed members of the Malibu Unification Negotiations Committee representing Santa Monica have issued a letter stating they have decided to not attend the planned negotiations meeting tonight.

Santa Monica negotiating committee representatives Tom Larmore, Paul Silvern and Debbie Mulvaney issued the letter to SMMUSD Board President Laurie Lieberman and Superintendent Sandra Lyon today, requesting that the process be paused until the committee members have an opportunity to confer with the school board and superintendent.

The SMMUSD Board of Education ratified the six-member Malibu Unification Negotiations Committee on January 21, 2016, that also includes Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal, Kevin Shenkman and Manel Sweetmore, representing Malibu. The Santa Monica members were selected by Lyon and the Malibu members were selected by the city manager of the City of Malibu.

The concern of the Santa Monica committee members is that the complaint was filed by Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS), along with other parties, against the City of Santa Monica, and it asks the Court to declare that the Santa Monica City Charter provision specifying at-large elections to the school board is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) and the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. The complaint was filed in Superior Court of Los Angeles on April 11, 2016.

AMPS is a community of Malibu residents whose goal is to create an independent Malibu Unified School District. Malibu negotiations committee member Kevin Shenkman is the attorney of record for the plaintiffs. The complaint also seeks recovery of attorneys’ fees.

“This lawsuit was filed by AMPS and Mr. Shenkman completely without warning, thereby materially impairing the collaborative nature of our discussions. In the spirit of collaboration we should have been informed that this action was forthcoming,” Larmore said. “We are concerned that the inclusion of issues relating to the District and the participation of AMPS have no purpose other than to attempt to influence our negotiations. We view this as a serious matter and believe that no further meetings should be held until we have an opportunity to report to the Board and receive direction from them.”

“I share the concerns of the Santa Monica negotiating team members,” Lieberman said. “The full seven-member Board of Education acted in good faith to further the investigation of the feasibility of a separate Malibu Unified School District and this legal action could jeopardize our ability to move forward in a productive manner. We are extremely disappointed that our efforts in the past few months to address the interest of the Malibu community to create its own district have been interrupted by this new development.” Superintendent Lyon shares Lieberman’s concerns over AMPS’ participation in this lawsuit and supports the request to pause the process of negotiations until the board may consider this development and its impact at a future board meeting.

“We have been working collaboratively with the Malibu negotiating team through an interestbased negotiating process to establish a basis of trust for consensus decision making,” Silvern said. “A carefully detailed facilitator process has been established and agreed upon by all six members. This surprise action involving two negotiating partners requires us to take some time to discuss the impact of this decision with the board.”

The board will hear a report by the three members of the Santa Monica negotiations team to discuss the continuation of the Malibu unification negotiations process at a regular board meeting on May 5, 2016. The meeting will be at Malibu City Hall.

The Malibu Unification Negotiations Committee was established in an effort to reach an agreement concerning terms associated with a potential reorganization of the District that would create a new Malibu Unified School District while also ensuring that the resulting Santa Monica

Unified School District remains financially neutral, pursuant to a resolution of the board adopted in December. The resolution calls upon members of the committee to work collaboratively in an effort to meet certain financial objectives set forth by the board. Four meetings have been held since March 7, 2016, with the fifth meeting scheduled for this evening. Additional information regarding the Committee, purpose and progress to date is available online:

SMMUSD is unable to comment on the lawsuit at this time.

– Submitted by Gail Pinsker, SMMUSD community & public relations officer