Advocates for a standalone Malibu school district believe they can still win approval for their proposal despite a recent report concluding efforts to split SMMUSD do not meet eight of nine conditions.

County regulators issued a report last week stating the current proposal only meets a requirement to avoid a split for the sole purpose of raising property values. For eight other criteria, the report stated Malibu’s proposal either did not meet requirements or that more information was needed to determine if they could meet the condition.

The process for splitting a district is confusingly known as a “unification” proposal and plans are judged on a nine-condition basis. While meeting the conditions is not an automatic requirement for approval, the evaluation is part of the decision-making process.

Proposals must meet standards for enrollment, community identity, division of property, racial equity, cost to the State, educational outcomes, infrastructure costs, property values and ongoing fiscal health.

The report states Malibu’s proposal fails to meet enrollment, identity, racial and fiscal health requirements. It states the proposal does not meet the other conditions but stipulates those failures are based on a lack of information and additional study is needed to make a final determination.

The City of Malibu is leading the effort to establish a new district and their team said it’s encouraged by the recommendation to further study its proposal.

“Malibu is a small, residential community with its own identity and needs. We are 20 miles from Santa Monica, and the two cities don’t even share a border,” said Malibu Councilwoman Karen Farrer. “For the past 30 years, students in Santa Monica and Malibu have attended schools in their own cities, and no students will have to change schools if we separate districts. Our families have worked for decades for local control over the education of our children and to make sure they have access here in Malibu to the same programs and resources that the District offers in Santa Monica. The District agrees that we should separate, and the only question is how we can do it fairly and without harming students. Malibu’s proposal is fair, and remaining with the District is harming Malibu’s students.”

In a statement, the City said the terms of its most recent offer to the District should satisfy many of the fiscal questions raised in the report and that with some additional study, it felt the proposal could eventually pass eight of the nine conditions. The statement said Malibu would not meet the enrollment requirements of 1,501 students but the number itself was not actually a problem.

“While enrollment is not a concern for the feasibility of reorganization, it is a concern for the community,” said the statement. “There is an argument to be made how an independent Malibu Unified School District could attract additional students and stop enrollment decline by giving Malibu families local control of their children’s education and addressing the specific needs and priorities of the community. Other factors such as the community’s continuing rebuild effort from the Woolsey Fire and the student voucher program could address this as well.”

Malibu officials said they remain open to a negotiated settlement under the right conditions.

“Yes, if the District would agree to binding arbitration by a neutral third party. The District has rejected that proposal, even though the County Committee’s consultant supported a third-party arbitration. The City is leery of any further non-binding negotiations because, in the City’s opinion, the District had negotiated these past few years in bad faith,” said the statement.

The report will be discussed in detail at an upcoming Sept. 18 hearing.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...