|The Lookout Letter to the editor|
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Dear Parents, Guardians, Staff and Community Members,
I am writing this letter to explain the status of unification efforts from my perspective as superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
For those who are wondering why I am writing about this topic at this crucial time when our schools are reopening, I understand and share your concern. I wish this was not the case.
My attempts to push the conversation to the summer failed as the City of Malibu wanted to address it immediately. It would be irresponsible for me and my staff to not meet this head on, even during this turbulent time of school reopening conversations.
The consequences of the City’s petition to separate are just too great to ignore. You have my personal commitment and my staff’s commitment that we are working diligently and will continue to work diligently to address both issues.
The discussions and efforts surrounding unification have been around for at least 20 years. During the last six years, consensus has been reached by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education to find a way to separate the district into MUSD and SMUSD with the guiding principle that no students, regardless of the territory where they live and attend school, would be harmed financially or programmatically from the split.
The school district staff and the City of Malibu staff have engaged in a process to identify a path that would allow for an equitable and fair separation. The greatest obstacle that remains is the lack of an agreement over a financial plan that would ensure the fiscal and programmatic success of each new district. That is the key element that must be resolved.
The City of Malibu has unilaterally decided to move forward with its petition to the County in the absence of an agreement on a fair and workable financial plan.
The City is trying to impose its own financial plan that would leave Santa Monica students in a worse financial and programmatic position than if Malibu schools and Santa Monica schools remained together in one district or even if separate districts were created under the district’s proposed financial plan.
The district opposes the City’s current petition because it is unfair to Santa Monica students. As the superintendent who serves all students, regardless of where they attend school within the SMMUSD, I cannot support a proposal that does not provide for all of them.
The district intends to lodge its formal objections and opposition to the City petition at the April 17, 2021 public hearing before the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization that will be held in a virtual format beginning at 9 a.m.
During the virtual hearing, the Committee will hear from the City and SMMUSD, and members of the public will also have an opportunity to support their support or opposition. Public hearing notice.
Let me be very clear that my opposition to the City’s petition is based primarily on the methodology utilized by the City of Malibu that results in an inequitable separation.
Under the “Best and Final Offer” that the City of Malibu sent to the district on March 12, 2021, we have calculated that post-separation, per pupil revenue for Santa Monica-area students would experience a 21 percent reduction after 10 years and remain below where revenues would have been without a split.
That means that I, as the superintendent, would need to make the cuts to staff and programs on the Santa Monica side to match the reduction in total revenue. These cuts would need to start immediately in order to establish reserves and allow a gradual decline in expenses to match the revenue in the ensuing years.
After 20 years, Malibu students would have more than $100,000 per student than if our district remained intact.
As the superintendent charged with the education of students from both communities, I see the City’s proposal as harmful to an entire generation of students with the very real and dangerous potential to harm Santa Monica students forever. It is for this reason that I support and endorse the opposition to the City of Malibu’s petition for unification as currently proposed.
This approach also provides the opportunity for continuous growth to address inflation and future aspirations while keeping the students in the newly formed SMUSD financially unharmed and also able to meet its inflation costs and future aspirations.
Although the per pupil revenue in SMUSD would be slightly less than it would have been otherwise under a SMMUSD district, the adjustment would not be nearly as significant as it would be under the Malibu proposal.
This report, reviewed by the school board during closed session, includes further analysis of the City of Malibu’s best and final offer rejected by the school board, as well as the district’s own proposal.
Additional background information is available online. If you would like to voice your opposition to the Malibu proposal, please submit this form and we will follow up with you prior to the April 17 hearing.
Thanks for reading this to gain a better understanding of the critical and timely nature of this issue.
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