The committee assigned to explore the possible separation of the Santa Monica-Malibu school district is making progress, but there are still numerous obstacles to address.
That’s according to representatives from the Santa Monica side of the six-member panel, who on Thursday evening updated the local Board of Education on the progress of the talks that began earlier this year.
“Our discussions have been fruitful, productive and collaborative,” Paul Silvern said. “Things are moving along, but that’s not to say things are fully agreed upon in the process.”
Silvern pointed out five specific topics on which the committee members are trying to find common ground, including assets, liabilities, revenue streams, environmental issues and implementation.
The group met last week at SMMUSD headquarters and is scheduled to convene again Tuesday night at Malibu City Hall. Three more meetings are planned for October.
School board president Laurie Lieberman praised the committee members for their work in recent weeks.
“Thank you for your efforts and brilliance in trying to find a solution to this issue,” she said.
The committee has been trying to figure out how district assets — including cash, buildings and land — would be allocated to separate Santa Monica and Malibu entities. Exactly what would happen with district headquarters, which are located on 16th Street in Santa Monica, has not yet been determined. Several other SMMUSD properties would require similar attention.
“There’s no expectation that these properties will be sold in the near future,” Silvern said.
The committee has also been analyzing the district’s bond liabilities, a complicated matter considering projects with funds from Measures BB and ES are in progress. The former was passed in 2006, the latter in 2012.
“These is voter-approved bond authority for bonds that have not yet been issued,” Silvern said. “There are some issues on how to deal with unissued but voter-approved bonds.”
Silvern said arguably the most difficult challenge for the committee is coming to agreement on how to split revenue streams. He noted that the district’s financial oversight committee and School Services of California, a consultant, have delved into the details, but there’s tension over which revenue sources to include in the calculations.
“We’re right in the middle of those discussions right now,” Silvern said. “It’s fairly complicated. There are strong differences of opinion, but we’re working through it.”
Environmental issues also factor into the talks, which are moving forward following a federal judge’s recent ruling in a lawsuit filed over the district’s handling of chemical testing and cleanup at Malibu schools. The court ruled that SMMUSD must remove all polychlorinated biphenyls from the buildings in question by 2019.
Even if the committee can reach consensus on the aforementioned issues, Silvern said, the process of creating a new school district — sometimes referred to as unification — is complex. It could involve the county education office and State Board of Education as well as local voters.
“Assuming we can reach agreement,” Silvern said, “there would need to be some further work about what might happen in the short run if [the SMMUSD board] is inclined to support the unification proposal as it moves forward.”
Board member Craig Foster, a Malibu resident, did not comment after the presentation but gave Silvern and committee member Tom Larmore two thumbs up and a nod of appreciation.
A steadfast proponent of separation, Foster founded Advocates for Malibu Public Schools before earning a seat on the SMMUSD governing body in 2014 and subsequently handing the reins of the group to other activists.