The revived petition to separate Malibu and Santa Monica school districts will get a public hearing before county officials in April.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education’s Committee on School District Organization will hold a public hearing on the petition at 9 a.m. Wednesday, April 17, 2021, via Zoom, according to SMMUSD officials.

The hearing is the next step in a process that has mostly played out through print up to this point.

Malibu first sent a “unification” petition to LACOE on Aug 31, 2017, but suspended it on April 9, 2018 in order to negotiate with SMMUSD. In school-speak, “unification” is the technical term for splitting the district in two.

Malibu City Councilmembers became unhappy with the pace and direction of negotiations and opposed SMMUSD’s financial proposals that would require a portion of Malibu’s property tax base be permanently redistributed to the proposed Santa Monica District. The Council identified splitting the district as a top priority and reinstated a petition to L.A. County Office of Education, an action that has been repeatedly criticized by SMMUSD Supertintendent Ben Drati.

In October of last year, SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati sent a letter to the City of Malibu, expressing disapproval of the petition and urged city leaders to return to the negotiating table for the sake of preserving educational equity. Just a few days prior, Drati cited financial concerns as a key reason why a separation 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,” Drati said. “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.”

Malibu officials have said they are willing to share revenues up to a point to address some of the fiscal arguments, however, the City of Malibu believes creating a Malibu Unified School District would solve inequalities between educational opportunities offered in Santa Monica and Malibu and give residents the local control over Malibu schools they so strongly desire. 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.

Dr. Drati’s letter expressed disappointment that negotiations were abandoned and that the petition was reinstated without consultation of the District.

Former president of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools and SMMUSD board member Craig Foster said it was narcissistic and hypocritical for the district to use equity as an argument.

“Either/both/all of these scenarios begin and end with Santa Monica/SMMUSD/Malibu all having 30%-plus more per pupil revenues than 99.9% of California’s school districts — the vast majority of which have far more challenging student populations that, if we truly believed in equity, deserve/need the money far more than either/both of these wealthy towns.”

SMMUSD officials encouraged residents looking for more information to visit smmusd.org/UnificationFAQ.

Brennon@smdp.com