Malibu City leadership is back at the negotiating table with a new offer to break off from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District: $40 million in an endowment fund focused on closing the achievement gap at six Santa Monica school sites.

The officer is actually a reduction of about 20 percent from Malibu’s previous offer.

The last “best and final” offer, submitted by Malibu in March, included a stipulation that Malibu “transfer additional property taxes for up to 10 years from the date of the school district separation if Santa Monica per-pupil funding falls below the current per-pupil funding level in order to maintain the per-pupil funding that Santa Monica students would have otherwise had from the combined district.” That amount was estimated to come to just under $50 million over the decade following the split.

This week’s amended “best and final” offer isn’t too big a leap from that, according to Malibu’s Assistant City Attorney Christine Wood, the legal adviser for Malibu’s separation efforts.

“It’s very similar in dollars. It’s just that the new offer would differ in approach — but it’s very similar in dollars,” Wood said.

The new negotiation amount was approved in a closed-door item at the Monday, Jan. 10, Malibu City Council meeting.

While the new offer amends the previous “best and final” offer, Wood said the previous offer “has already been on the table for the District … that offer has remained in place and continues to be our ‘best and final’ offer.”

Interim Malibu City Attorney John Cotti, in announcing the amended offer on Monday, stated that the money was earmarked to go toward Title I schools located in Santa Monica.

“The council authorized the school separation committee to make a counteroffer to the Santa Monica Unified School District amounting to $40 million over 10 years in targeted funds to six Title I schools and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and to continue to work with the district to identify acceptable mediators in the hopes of mediating before the county committee votes in March,” Cotti announced at the end of the closed-session item on Monday.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment are eligible to use Title I funds to operate schoolwide programs that serve all children in the school in order to raise the achievement of the lowest-achieving students.”

On Wednesday morning, Malibu representatives shared a copy of the letter with the Daily Press.

“The City [of Malibu] offers to place, over a ten-year period, $40 million in an endowment for the six District schools listed below,” according to the offer letter. “The endowment will be equally shared by these schools and administered by the school site councils at each respective school.”

The schools named were McKinley Elementary, Edison Language Academy, John Muir Elementary, Will Rogers Learning Community, John Adams Middle School and Samohi.

“This offer is made with the confidence that the City can partner with the District in its efforts to close the achievement gap at these schools,” the letter states. “The City recognizes and respects the District’s mission to achieve ‘Extraordinary achievements for all students while simultaneously closing the achievement gap.’ It is in this spirit that the City hopes the parties can reach an agreement to provide an extraordinary resource to the students at these schools and empower their school communities to seek interventions to help close the achievement gap.”

SMMUSD officials said the new offer fell short.

“The latest offer by the City of Malibu only serves to reinforce their inability to grasp the concepts of equity and how our schools are funded,” said School Board Member Jon Kean. “The implication that all at-promise students are housed at 6 schools further perpetuates the have vs have not mentality that they are actively embracing. Over 30% of students in SMMUSD receive free or reduced lunch and that number will only rise if one removes Malibu schools from the equation. There are students at every school site who depend on the spirit of equity embodied by district wide fundraising and other educational initiatives. The ultimate irony is that all students in Santa Monica, not just those at our Title I schools, will receive LESS funding under the City of Malibu proposal than they do today. This offer still leaves students in Santa Monica with decreased funding and decreased opportunities. To the City of Malibu, you have a standing offer from SMMUSD that you agreed to before walking away. It embraces equity and opportunity for all students in both communities. That is the path we all must walk.”

The offer was just the latest in a drawn-out and often bitter negotiation that began in earnest in 2015, although parents in Malibu have been organizing efforts to separate their schools from the larger Santa Monica-based school district for longer.

According to the district, offers so far have fallen short, especially when it comes to the 10-year sunset on Malibu funding. With Malibu taxpayers supplying a disproportionate amount of funding to Santa Monica students — making up about 15 percent of the district’s student body, Malibu’s vast tax base ends up funding about 30 percent of the district’s budget — the District has expressed concern that cuts to school programs, particularly at Title I schools, will be needed immediately to ease the transition over the 10 years until Malibu funding is cut off.

While negotiations remain ongoing, there is a simultaneous petition for separation currently before the LA County Office of Education (LACOE). The next LACOE hearing is set to take place in March 2022; if board members approve Malibu’s petition, it will then go before the State Board of Education, in a process expected to take several months or years to complete.

Each side has accused the other of not acting in good faith when it came to the negotiations.

When asked on Tuesday whether she believed district leadership would seriously consider this newest offer, Farrer said she “could not predict” their response.

“I do very much hope they will consider it seriously,” Farrer said, “and understand that we want school district independence, we want local control and we acknowledge Santa Monica’s position, but it doesn’t negate our position. I really hope the district will read this offer and respond to it in a timely manner.”

emily@smdp.com