Malibu council postpones school separation request

Emily Sawicki
Special to the Daily Press

The city of Malibu is willing to delay its petition asking the Los Angeles County Office of Education to establish a standalone Malibu school district following a request from the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District to allow the district time to pursue its own separation plans.

The Malibu City Council voted recently to suspend its petition while awaiting the District’s decision, expected to come in mid-February.

Just a couple of months ago, Malibu went forward with a petition signed by city council requesting the Los Angeles County Office of Education begin exploring “unification” of a Malibu-only school district independent of Santa Monica, to which Malibu has been attached for decades.

The request came in the midst of ongoing talks between Malibu and Santa Monica advocates but the issue came to a head recently.

At a pair of October meetings, the Board established the Malibu community is committed to splitting from Santa Monica and said a set of payments over the next 50 years could alleviate their concerns over finances for a standalone Santa Monica district.

However, the Board also criticized the effort by the Malibu council to have County officials forcefully split the districts, without any financial obligations.

The Board requested Superintendent Ben Drati work with Malibu to pause their effort while SMMUSD continued to hammer out its own plans with a goal of voting on some kind of proposal on Feb. 15.

This week, the Malibu council begrudgingly agreed at the request not only of the SMMUSD Board but AMPS (Advocates for Malibu Public Schools). However, they were not happy with the process, particularly the discussion of a 50-year payment plan.

As part of their request to the county, the council added advisory language stating they would be amenable to a transition payment system that guaranteed both districts a 3.5 percent growth rate until a potential Santa Monica district reached that growth rate on its own.

That language passed the council but prompted several members to voice displeasure with the SMMUSD position that payments continue for a fixed time regardless of revenues.

Council Member Lou La Monte said the district didn’t deserve any more time but he would support the proposals out of respect for the Council’s negotiation process.

He was more forceful in his opposition to the idea that Malibu could be paying off Santa Monica for half a century — an idea that seemed popular in Santa Monica when it was introduced earlier this month.

“As far as the continuing support of the Santa Monica school system is concerned, I’m hearing this number float around of 50 years, and as far as I’m concerned, that is absolutely a nonstarter, from me,” he said.

La Monte said he agreed with the concept of a transitional period but 50 years was too long.

“The concept of mortgaging the lives of the citizens of Malibu for the next 50 years to support the Santa Monica School District in a city that is 10 times larger than we are, eight times larger than we are, is insane, from my perspective.”
Several members of the council echoed his sentiments.

“The reality is it’s not about the money, it’s about independence and we have been negotiating in good faith and willing to do a transition plan, we’re still willing to do one … I don’t think we’re talking about the 50-year plan here, we’re talking about something reasonable, something more equitable,” said Mayor Pro Tem Rick Mullen.

Despite their discomfort, the council voted unanimously to send a letter asking the county to hold off on processing the council’s petition pending the Feb. 15 SMMUSD meeting.

Daily Press Editor Matthew Hall contributed to this story.