Will the Santa Monica-Malibu Schools Divorce Continue? Yes, but ….

Malibu is trying to separate itself from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, a long-standing effort that will continue after a vote from county education officials. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Malibu moved closer to its ultimate goal on Saturday: divorce from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and control over the educational future of its students. But a resolution is probably years away.

After three and a half hours of often acrimonious testimony, the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization voted 8-2 to allow the city’s petition to leave the district and move forward. The vote was the latest development in a long process, and it was not a signal that Malibu’s controversial secession plan would ultimately succeed, committee officials said.

“There is no approval of the proposal by [the committee’s] staff, ”said Allison Deegan, the committee’s regionalized business services coordinator, on Saturday. “There is only one recommendation to continue the review, locate additional documents that may be convincing and controlling, and resolve the issue in accordance with the typical and robust county committee process. “

Malibu is approximately 20 miles west of Santa Monica. The cities do not share a border, but they have been linked by a single school system for almost 70 years. For more than half of their relationship, Malibu wanted to go out.

City officials and Malibu parents claim their children are receiving a degraded education compared to students in Santa Monica schools. They note that Santa Monica High offers five foreign languages, but Malibu High only has two; that Santa Monica students can take a dual immersion language program where they are taught in English and Spanish, but Malibu students cannot.

“The needs of the students and the community of Malibu are still not being met,” Malibu City Councilor Karen Farrer said during Saturday’s hearing, “because the district is not interested in finding a solution to this situation. That is why we have come to you to get it done. “

Malibu’s last petition to secede from the school district began in 2015. Since then, the city and district have negotiated, broken off negotiations, and attempted to settle disputes again. They have appeared before the county committee almost a dozen times. Saturday’s vote did not bring a resolution, but opens more hearings, meetings and reports.

Both sides agree that it would be better to go their separate ways, but district officials argue that Malibu’s current plan would create a predominantly white school system in Malibu while leaving Santa Monica’s more diverse student body in dire straits, facing downward spirits. bigger classes, fewer programs for underprivileged children and a scary future.

Malibu students make up about 15% of the district’s population; Malibu property taxes account for about 35% of the district’s revenue. Malibu wants more of that money under its own control, calling it a matter of fairness. District officials disagree and argue that the state’s school funding system does not work that way.

“Sadly, there is a continuing precedent of systemic and structural discrimination in this country that has even affected the education system in the form of affluent, wealthy and predominantly white communities breaking away from larger and more ethnically diverse districts,” said SMMUSD Superintendent Ben Drati. during the Saturday hearing.

At the same time, these districts take “the community resources allocated to public education in their region or district,” he said. “It is happening all over the country and in our own backyard with the [Malibu] Petition from the town hall. “

In early September, county committee staff released their own criticism of the Malibu plan. That analysis said the plan did not meet eight of the nine criteria important to any decision to allow districts to secede and would leave the remaining district of Santa Monica in “dire” financial straits.

But staff also recommended that the committee allow the process to move forward, as the information they have so far on the proposed split is more opinions than facts. Continuing the review process would allow the committee to get the information it needs.

The committee agreed.

But Saturday’s decision is far from final. The committee now has 60 days to hold at least one more hearing. After that, he will have 120 days for analysis and another vote. The next step is a state environmental review, which could take up to two years.

“He’s then in the queue to be reviewed by the State Board of Education,” Deegan said. “Their current queue to hear a petition is three years.”

Then, if the state council approves the petition, the decision on whether Malibu can separate and form its own school district will be put to a public vote.

“The voting area is not yet determined,” said Farrer, who did not comment further on Saturday’s decision.

There are two possibilities, said David Soldani, an attorney representing the school district in the pending proceedings. The first would be a vote of residents of Malibu only, the second a vote of residents of the entire district. “There’s no nice and orderly way to encapsulate the factors that go into the mix,” he said.

Jon Kean, chairman of the school board, said Saturday’s decision was “fairly easy to predict.”

“The departmental committee has confirmed that 8 of the 9 criteria are still not met,” he said in an email. “The decision to go to the full public process will not change that, but it will give the City of Malibu two more months to present the facts and evidence that they have failed to produce in the past six years.

The city has not produced such evidence to date, Kean said, “because the petition is fatally flawed. By the end of the process, the inequalities in this petition will be clear and the city will not be able to say that it is. was denied a fair hearing. “

Christine Wood, deputy district attorney for the city of Malibu, said in an email that the city “is happy with the county committee’s decision today. Criteria.”

She said city officials also hope the school district will return to the negotiating table and, with the help of third-party arbitration, develop a separation plan that both sides can agree to.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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