Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District offices (File photo)

Following two and a half years of negotiations between Malibu City Council and SMMUSD, Malibu decided on Oct. 12 to reinstate its petition to L.A. County Office of Education to form a separate school district. On Wednesday Oct. 28, SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati sent a letter to the City of Malibu expressing disapproval of the petition and urging Malibu to return to the negotiating table for the sake of preserving educational equity.

The District letter cited financial concerns saying that a separation following the plan shared at Malibu’s Oct. 12 City Council meeting would create two very unequal school districts.

“Their consultants’ projections show Malibu starting at $16,494 per student, while students in Santa Monica would be funded at $13,592. Based on the Malibu formula for revenue growth, in year five, Malibu students will receive $25,998 per student, while Santa Monica per student funding will be $14,264: a five year growth rate of 58% in Malibu vs 5% in Santa Monica,” said Dr. Drati.

The City of Malibu is pursuing its petition to create a Malibu Unified School District on account of inequalities between educational opportunities offered in Santa Monica vs Malibu and a strong desire for local control over Malibu schools. Currently, Malibu has approximately 15 percent of the District’s population, which hinders its ability to elect local representatives to the seven member School Board and precludes an ability to form a majority Malibu vote on school issues.

Malibu first sent its unification petition to LACOE on Aug 31. 2017, but suspended it on April 9. 2018 in order to negotiate with SMMUSD. Malibu City Council members are unsatisfied by the pace and direction of negotiations and oppose SMMUSD’s financial proposals that would require a portion of Malibu’s property tax base be permanently redistributed to the proposed Santa Monica District.

“Having sent our children to local Malibu schools, this issue could not be more dear to our hearts. We are disappointed in the SMMUSD negotiations but are encouraged by the work that has been done and are very excited to be moving the City’s petition for unification of a Malibu Unified School District forward,” said Councilmember Karen Farrer and Councilmember Rick Mullen, members of the City’s School District Separation Ad Hoc Committee.

Malibu City Council established school district separation as one of the Council’s top three priorities in addition to public safety and Woolsey Fire rebuild for the last two years.

Dr. Drati’s letter expressed disappointment that negotiations were abandoned and that the petition was reinstated without consultation of the District. The District is preparing a response to the petition in preparation for the public hearing that will be scheduled by LACOE.

“If the Malibu City Council chooses to return to the negotiating table and embraces a genuine effort to address equity concerns seriously, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District delegation is committed to continuing to work together to find an equitable solution that ensures fairness to both of what will be newly created districts,” said Dr. Drati. “We are firmly focused on the future.”

Clara@smdp.com