Dispense with the distraction
Last week at the 30 Oct meeting, both the school board and SM residents suggested that Santa Monica needs more money (i.e. Malibu money) to help close the achievement gap within the district. However, the Noguera Report refutes this notion.

Pedro Noguera’s report made crucial conclusions in this regard:

“For over twenty years, SMMUSD has undertaken a number of initiatives to address and reduce racial and socio-economic disparities in student achievement… (N)one of these efforts have reduced disparities in student achievement or produced significant or sustainable improvements in academic outcomes for African American and Latino students, English language learners, children with learning disabilities and low-income students generally, in the school district.”

“(M)any of the promising initiatives that have been undertaken have not been well implemented, nor have they been systematically evaluated. “

“(L)ack of progress can also be attributed to the frequent distractions experienced by district leaders, board members, central office directors and site leaders.”

Nowhere in Dr. Noguera’s report does he mention money, (let alone a lack of money), as a factor in SMMUSD’s failure to achieve its most basic goal. Instead, he mentions distractions as one of the reasons they have not succeeded.

As an independent school district, SMUSD will have a board and administration focused on one manageable 4 mile x 4 mile area comprised of seven elementary schools, two middle schools, and a single comprehensive high school.

SMMUSD is failing to meet its fundamental responsibilities and goals.

Research clearly shows smaller school districts are more efficient.

Therefore, independence for SMUSD and MUSD will improve both districts’ opportunities for success by creating smaller locally controlled institutions.

This will simultaneously remove the friction and distraction of governing two disparate, distant entities.

So if Santa Monica sincerely wishes to reach its goal of Excellence Through Equity, it needs to dispense with the huge distraction of Malibu and focus on itself.

Jessica Isles

Better ways
At its meeting on November 16 at 7:30 p.m. in Santa Monica, the SMMUSD Board will address the issue of Malibu’s request to separate from the District.

As a member of SMMUSD’s Intercultural Equity and Excellence District Advisory Committee, I’ve listened to public comments on this topic at prior Board meetings and had conversations on this issue with Malibu residents.

These experiences have given me a better understanding of Malibu’s concerns as well as a greater resolve to press the Board to work harder to address them.

In retrospect, prior institutionalization of shared governance would have gone a long way toward addressing many of the relevant issues that now seem intractable.

Recently, the Board received the reports of an ad hoc committee as well as of a consulting company, each of which was charged with estimating the fiscal impact of Malibu separation.

Their conclusions are essentially the same.

The estimated financial impact of splitting the 11,000 pupil district under either of their scenarios would leave the next generation of Malibu students with about 1.5 times the revenue per pupil of the Santa Monica students.

In other words, the Malibu per pupil revenue would be about $1 for every 65 cents of per pupil revenue for Santa Monica.

This is not an equitable outcome, especially when one takes into account the fact that Santa Monica currently enrolls about 94% of the nearly 2,700 SMMUSD students who are eligible for free/reduced price lunch (a disproportionality between the two cities that’s unlikely to change much in the next generation).

In short, it would undermine the educational prospects of the vast majority of the most vulnerable students in our district.
Fortunately, better ways for Malibu to gain the local control it seeks are possible. Sharing power is a more equitable solution than splitting districts.

Michele Wittig
Santa Monica

SMMUSD Unification

I served as a member of the Santa Monica contingent to the Malibu Unification Negotiating Committee (MUNC). I am proud of the collaborative work we did over approximately 16 months.

I did not, however, believe that we would hand our report over to the SMMUSD schoolboard and have them rubber stamp it as final.

I fully expected the Board to vet the assumptions and conclusions drawn and I understand their need to feel comfortable with the results. This is an extremely complicated issue and is difficult to understand, even for those of us who have spent many, many hours engrossed in it.

Perhaps the biggest misconception out there right now is that the MUNC is being ignored.

The MUNC report is over 1000 pages of research and reports and consisted of five sections, each dealing with a different aspect of reorganization of SMMUSD.

Only one part is still being discussed.

The other four areas (asset distribution, bond allocations, liability responsibility and separation logistics) seem to have been accepted as presented.

The SSC alternative and suggested improvements to the operating revenue portion of the MUNC Report are both worth considering.

SSC provided a couple of valid suggestions to improve the MUNC report, in terms of timing of payments and ease of transition, both of which are legitimate issues.

Their recommendation offers an alternative approach to that proposed by the MUNC, which needs to be flushed out both in terms of results and logistics to see if it is a better plan.

Furthermore, extending the SSC formula over a longer period of time, as has since been suggested by the Board, may indeed alleviate some of the issues that MUNC was unable to address.

I specifically asked to see a side-by-side comparison of MUNC and the SSC alternative in order for the Board and the public to be able to compare “apples to apples” and determine which, if either, is a better solution.

I think once we receive that additional information, the path will become much clearer.

I continue to support and understand the need for a separate Malibu School district, if the resultant Santa Monica only school district is not negatively fiscally impacted.

I appreciate the frustration on both sides, but I am asking everyone to tone down the rhetoric and work together to find our way there.

I still believe there is a way forward here that can be obtained in a collaborative manner.
Debbie Mulvaney
Santa Monica

Malibu Victimhood – The Disingenuous Debate

Advocates for Malibu to separate from SMMUSD and form their own school district have cited Tom Paine’s Federalist Papers and Martin Luther King on behalf of their cause. They have expropriated the words from the Passover story and anti-slavery anthem — “Let my people go” — in support of their mission.

They have referred to Malibu as “the Puerto Rico of SMMUSD.”

We would laugh if we weren’t so insulted by the lack of sensitivity this shows to the people for whom these words describe actual life struggle and oppression.

On the contrary, last time I checked, Malibu schools were among the best performing public schools in the State of California.

Alas, separation proponents have turned the definition of “equity” on its head.

Advocates of a separate Malibu school district seek to establish a very small and less diverse district than SMMUSD with extraordinary funding compared to other districts.

It’s important to understand that the SMMUSD Board of Education cannot unilaterally grant Malibu its own district.

That approval must come from the County and the State based on specific criteria and customarily granted to communities where students are low performing under an existing administration – hardly the case here.

But were Malibu City Council’s petition for “unification” granted by the LA County Reorganization Committee and State Board of Education, a Malibu USD would immediately become one of California’s wealthiest districts.

Malibu students would receive approximately $4500 more per student than Santa Monica students in 2018, and the per student revenues would continue to diverge in the coming years absent application of some type of alternative revenue arrangement.

If instead, one of the revenue sharing formulas currently being proposed were to be approved (which would require legislation, followed by voter approval), Malibu would have approximately $34,000 per student while the remaining Santa Monica schools would have about $22,000, by the year 2032.

Did we really hear the word “equity” used to support the petition to make Malibu a separate district?

These same advocates have completely mischaracterized and distorted spending and program decisions and offerings in SMMUSD. Contrary to their assertions, SMMUSD spends more money per child on Malibu students than on those in SM schools.

They claimed at a recent Board meeting that there are more programs they want but don’t have – yet, they have never actually requested them.

The claims get curiouser and curiouser. Malibu folks would suggest the middle and high schools in Santa Monica are in much better shape than Malibu Middle and High School campus, which is actually undergoing major improvements right now.

Have these people never glimpsed at Santa Monica High facilities? Are they unaware that John Adams Middle School hasn’t had an auditorium to meet in or in which to perform for four years due to earthquake damage?

Everyone knows that both SM and Malibu have aging schools that could use a lot of attention while state and federal funding for school facilities is almost nonexistent.

Rather than recognize this reality and blame lack of school infrastructure priority setting on the state or Legislature, I guess it suits the argument to blame SMMUSD instead.

Local control is a term that is a euphemism for a lot of things. Within California school finance, it NOT intended to be an approach that results in more money for the most affluent communities; rather it is supposed to allow for greater school district autonomy on spending decisions while also increasing funds for districts with higher concentrations of economically disadvantaged students.

Malibu’s argument turns the underlying goals of the Local Control Funding Formula for schools on its head as well.
The tactics of many of those seeking separation tend to ignore the law, history, and California school finance, not to mention equity, reality and the underlying tenets of public education in a democracy.

As much as it would be nice to put a happy ending to this debate, there is no justification for it to end with a cost to Santa Monica students and schools, and, while it is being debated, less hyperbole and more honesty could make it a more productive discussion.

In the meantime, this fall, Malibu High graduates went on to some of the most selective colleges in the country. Congrats to them.

Rochelle Fanali
Santa Monica