Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

City Council is the latest party to enter the renewed debate over Malibu’s desired school district separation, voting unanimously on Nov. 10 to submit a letter to the L.A. County Office of Education supporting SMMUSD’s side of the debate.

The Malibu City Council voted in October to exit negotiations with the Santa-Monica Unified School District and bring its petition for district separation to LACOE. This move upset the District and triggered an argumentative letter exchange between Malibu and SMMUSD over what constitutes a just separation.

Now Santa Monica City Council will toss its hat in the ring and send a letter to LACOE requesting that a fair division of assets and resources and the preservation of student diversity be included in any separation agreement.

“I’ve always been really proud of our unified school district and that it provides equitable and fair opportunity for students in both cities, so I look forward to seeing an equitable and fair solution out of this and to the extent that our council can assist, I want to be part of that,” said Councilmember Kristin McCowan, who attended SMMUSD schools and currently has a kindergartener enrolled in the District.

The issue of funding equity is at the crux of the ongoing debate. If SMMUSD splits, Malibu will need to redistribute some of its property taxes to the new Santa Monica District to ensure it is no worse off financially than the current unified district.

Unfortunately, the District and Malibu have been unable to agree on a redistribution plan. The SMMUSD negotiating team seeks the redistribution of $4 billion in Malibu property taxes over 50 years. Malibu seeks a smaller and less permanent redistribution.

The Council has sided with the District in supporting a separation agreement where the redistribution of Malibu funding creates two equitable Districts.

The approved agenda item is to send a letter to LACOE “affirming our City Council’s support for such a split but only if the terms of separation, including but not limited to the division of revenues and assets, are fair and just to students in Santa Monica schools, and provide robust and equal educational opportunity for both Malibu and Santa Monica students.”

The proposed Malibu redistribution plan would not result in an equitable division of funds. Financial analysts predict that under Malibu’s plan a Malibu district would have $25,998 in per student funding by fall 2023, whereas a Santa Monica district would have $14,555. However, both new districts would be better funded than the current unified district, which is why Malibu believes this plan is a viable option.

City Council also addressed student diversity. While this is not mentioned in the original agenda item, council members voted to include this concern in their letter to LACOE. The concern was brought forward by a letter from a member of the public who noted that an independent Malibu district would serve an almost entirely white student population.