Santa Monica-Malibu Disunified: 2 Sides Face Off At Hearing | #students | #parents

MALIBU, CA — “Fairytale” isn’t often a term that comes to mind when describing the Malibu school separation saga, but Malibu parent Heather Anderson drew a comparison to one during Saturday’s Los Angeles County Office of Education hearing.

“The list gets me imagining a new scene in the Cinderella fairytale,” Anderson said, referring to a list tweeted by SMMUSD of programs they say would be cut should Malibu’s “best, final offer” be accepted. Anderson said that these programs – like a grade 1-4 summer language academy, computer technical education, or career lab – “have not, are not, and will never be enjoyed at our end of Pacific Coast Highway.”

“It’s a scene where the three talented and wealthy Santa Monica stepsisters complain that if Cinderella moves from their mansion, who will wash their ball gowns, and who will polish their jewels for the ball?” said Anderson, a parent of two Malibu High School graduates. “Malibu’s contributions have provided the means for Santa Monica to create a fabulous program. But Malibu is tired of carrying the water for Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District without equity or accountability. It is time for the three wealthy, talented, and beautiful stepsisters in Santa Monica to get real, and figure out how to wash their own dang clothes.”

A little while later, during the section of the hearing devoted to opponents of Malibu’s separation proposal, Santa Monica Democratic Club President Jon Katz spoke of the “petty ulterior motives and axes to grind” of many of the Malibu speakers who made many “classist, and frankly racist comments,” including, “It’s time for Santa Monicans to wash their own clothes.”

“Someone even said ‘Malibu Lives Matter’ – think about what that means and why those white speakers might have made those remarks in this context,” Katz said.

And on and on it went.

For three hours on Saturday, hundreds of callers provided two starkly different views of what to do about the Santa Monica-Malibu Disunified School District. For callers from Malibu (and a few from Santa Monica), Malibu is the “ignored, ugly stepchild” that is “out of sight, out of mind” for a Santa Monica-centric district that denies Malibu the programming and opportunities offered in Santa Monica. Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman referred to a “school district at war with a large group of its constituents.”

“It’s been very difficult for me to hear the comments that the president of this school board Jon Kean made today, the person who’s supposed to represent me and my children, and Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati, who’s supposed to represent me here today, to have him speak here today in opposition to the entire Malibu community,” said Roui Israel, a Malibu parent who has been active in the PTA and many other local school organizations. “Santa Monica-Malibu School District does not treat each school equally, not with education, and certainly not with physical safety. They are Santa Monica residents who serve voters of Santa Monica.”

Malibu speakers – ranging from parents, teachers, to current and past councilmembers and mayors – spoke emotionally about a lack of representation, the district denying healthy food choices, refusing to close down schools during the Woolsey Fire, denying families displaced b the fire the right to enroll in SMMUSD schools, and spending over $7 million to fight Malibu when PCBs were found in its schools

The other quote to which Katz took umbrage came from former mayor Pamela Conley Ulich, who spoke about the Woolsey Fire. “Santa Monica doesn’t care,” she said. “I was here helping fight the fires. On Nov. 12, 2018, we asked for the Malibu Elementary School, the bathrooms to be open for the people to pick up water so they could have a place to go. Santa Monica, you’re doing a great job for your kids, I applaud you, but now it’s time for Malibu to have our representation, and to be heard, and to matter. It’s time, because Malibu kids matter too, and so do our lives.”

“There’s a lot of talk about severe disruption in quality of programs in Santa Monica and Malibu, yet we are the one who don’t get the programs, so I don’t understand how that would negatively impact Santa Monica – there’s enough resources there for Santa Monica even when we split,” said Malibu parent Karen Lee. “Our schools don’t have equality, so if we’re part of one school district and we’re not getting equality, it doesn’t make any sense for Santa Monica to support Malibu’s schools.”

Pro-Malibu speakers also pushed back against an idea raised by SMMUSD Board President Jon Keane that a Malibu school district would not have enough students because the city itself is shrinking.

“Starting with the PCB issue, we brought to [the district] a list of 100 names, including my family’s, that let because of the PCBs – there’s also a laundry list that left due to the fires, the ones that had to move out of town,” said Jennifer DeNicola, a former Malibu parent who helped bring the PCB issue to light.

“We started to see families move away when the school district started by crushing PTA fundraising and made it clear that they did not want additional programs in Malibu, but they did want our money,” said Malibu Mayor Pro Tem Paul Grisanti. “Later, the PCBs were discovered and the school district’s lack of response and the legal battle resulted in other families and students leaving. The coup de grâce has been the Woolsey Fire in [2018] which destroyed over 700 homes in the proposed Malibu school district. We were distressed to learn that those people who had had to relocate outside the district would not be allowed to enroll on permits.”

At the beginning of the meeting, during a section reserved for official city comment, Councilmember Karen Farrer said that even if a Malibu Unified School District does not meet the 1,500 student threshold, it would raise enough in property taxes to be self-sufficient.

Some Santa Monica residents also called in to express support for Malibu, although no speakers from Malibu supported the SMMUSD position.
“SMMUSD says Malibu’s prior offer wasn’t fair or equitable, but it’s difficult to trust anything the district says about its finances,” said Santa Monica parent Nikki Kolhoff. “The district’s objection to the separation really has nothing to do with Malibu and really everything to do with covering the fiscal incompetence of the school board.”

But most of the calls from Santa Monica expressed some version of the official position of SMMUSD: while Malibu is entitled to its own school district, its latest proposal is not fair and equitable, and would result in a reported loss of 21 percent in funding over 10 years and up to $30 million in cuts. Santa Monica has also argued that a Malibu Unified School District would be racially homogenous, and draw resources away from students of color. Malibu has pushed back against these claims, arguing that the school makeup will remain unchanged, and both districts will get more money after unification.

“[Malibu’s] current plan would increase racial segregation and amplify existing inequities by reallocating funding in an unfair manner,” said Victor Leon, director of education equity for the ACLU of Southern California. “Specifically, the petition will create a new district that includes more white students and more higher-income students, and it will provide those students with a greater share of funding. It would create a dual-track system of education, drawing resources away from the students who need it most.”

“The goal should be to improve education, not make it worse,” said Manny Rangel of SEIU Local 99, the union representing 50,000 education workers. “The decision to allow Malibu to secede has greater repercussions and would undoubtedly exacerbate educational inequalities on many levels.”

“I think we need to separate the two issues of secession, and fairness, and equity, and money,” said Sarah Braff, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association. “I don’t think anybody is fighting the concept of separation, but the ed code says it will be an equitable and that it would not promote racial or ethnic discrimination, or segregation. What Malibu has proposed would disenfranchise the most vulnerable students in both our communities.”

“While our board supports Malibu’s efforts to create its own district, we feel the current financial proposal is grossly inequitable,” said Alison Havel, president of the board of directors for the Santa Monica Education Foundation, which unanimously turned down Malibu’s proposal. “Our board’s mission is to invest in a vibrant educational experience for all students in the Santa Monica public schools. This proposal is the antithesis of our mission, because it will result in programmatic and staff reductions that will negatively impact the education of Santa Monica students…in year 11 of Malibu’s proposal, the per pupil revenue will be $21,000 for Santa Monica, and $98,000 for Malibu. How can it be equitable to separate into two districts with a financial result that is devastating to one and a windfall to the other?”

At the end of the hearing, the two sides seem further apart than ever. A statement from SMMUSD claimed that unification would create “irreparable harm to both Santa Monica and Malibu, specifically in the areas of diversity, equity, educational programs and finances.”

SMMUSD’s statement also reiterated the claim that a Malibu district would take a “disproportionate share of funding resources,” while not attracting enough students to be viable. The statement also accused Malibu of not providing current data or statistics, or a plan to address diversity.

The city of Malibu issued a shorter statement noting that almost everyone agreed Malibu should have its own school district.

“The City hopes the County Committee issues a tentative recommendation in support of the City’s petition, allowing the City to continue through the unification process,” it said. “While the City does not exclude any path to unification, it is not optimistic about returning to the negotiating table given SM-MUSD’s history of negotiating in bad faith.”

The LACOE Committee on School District Organization will choose to accept or reject Malibu’s proposal around June. If LACOE accepts, it would enter the committee’s review process, which includes multiple local public hearings, a staff feasibility study, and an environmental analysis. If approved, the finalized proposal will go to voters. However, an appeal to the state board of education could significantly delay proceedings.

Related coverage:

SMMUSD Board Rejects Another Malibu Proposal | Malibu, CA Patch

Malibu Proposes Third Party Negotiate School Separation | Malibu, CA Patch

SMMUSD Board Votes Down Malibu’s ‘Best And Final’ Offer | Malibu, CA Patch

Will Santa Monica Students Pay The Price If Malibu Separates? | Santa Monica, CA Patch

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