Courtesy image.

In the third hearing to debate cleaving the local school district into Malibu and Santa Monica specific agencies both sides hardened their battle lines but little new information emerged to clarify the ongoing dispute. 

The city of Malibu is asking County officials to split SMMUSD in two. The proposal has been contentious from the start with the Malibu community accusing SMMUSD of neglect and SMMUSD supporters arguing the proposal will decrease the quality of education across the region. 

The Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization previously met in September and agreed with a staff recommendation that said more time was needed to evaluate Malibu’s proposal to split the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District.

That meeting followed the release of a preliminary report that said the proposal submitted by the City of Malibu, failed to meet eight of nine conditions. Proposals should 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. However, staff said many of the failures were due to unanswered questions that may be resolved with additional research.

During their arguments, Malibu proponents said their proposal did meet the criteria and criticized SMMUSD for failing to answer required questions that would help Malibu address lingering questions. 

“We’ve asked the district for this information and other information nearly a month ago, and they’re trying to take six to eight weeks, sometimes more than that, before we get the simplest of information from them,” said Malibu Deputy City Attorney Christine Wood. “So while they want to criticize whether we can show certain information in our preliminary report, don’t let it be missed that they’re not even willing to provide the city the information that we need to complete our feasibility study,” she said. 

She said the City has faith in the commissioners to make a fair finding but said the process so far hadn’t done enough to allow Malibu to present information directly to County staff before recommendations were made. 

“It’s one thing to question the credibility of our findings. But the LACOE preliminary staff report seems to completely ignore things presented to the county committee as evidence that the petition has and will continue to meet the nine criteria,” she said. 

The District said Malibu’s proposal simply couldn’t meet the necessary criteria, no matter how much additional research was conducted. 

“This is the third hearing on this petition and still to this day, there’s not one sentence explaining the city and its visions for an education program,” said attorney David Soldani. “What is the city going to do with all that additional money that will improve a program that already has a 100% graduation rate? Instead of hearing about an education program, all they talk about is property tax. And that tells you everything you need to know about what’s really behind this petition. In summary, the criteria simply cannot be met here. And there is no compelling reason to overlook any of the criteria, especially where the district is as high performing and successful as the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District.”

The hearing was part of a months-long process that will culminate in a decision in about March of 2022. The Committee could reject the proposal outright at that time or allow it to continue. If approved by the County, the proposal would enter a years-long review by the state and could culminate in a public vote.