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By Jorge Casuso

October 29, 2020 -- Efforts to split the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) have hit a major roadblock after Malibu officials walked away from negotiations, leaving the District "deeply skeptical."

City Employees' Council Endorsements

In a unanimous vote October 12, the Malibu City Council re-petitioned the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) to intervene after accusing the District of "negotiating in bad faith."

At the meeting, attorneys for the City of Malibu called the negotiations "remarkably unsuccessful," according to a report in the Malibu Times.

Phil Brock for Council

The action was met Wednesday with a letter from Superintendent Ben Drati charging that Malibu had "abandoned our collaboration."

Oscar de la Torre for City Council

"We have been working in good faith with the Malibu City Council to find an approach that allows the separation of the SMMUSD into two separate districts with equity and fairness for all students as the guide," Drati wrote Malibu City Manager Reva Feldman.

"We had achieved substantial progress toward an equitable financial solution and then the pandemic struck," Drati said.

"We are disappointed in what appears to be a retreat to a position we thought we had all moved beyond in our discussions. We are deeply skeptical of what we’ve seen thus far."

Malibu's approach, Drati said, "would separate SMMUSD into two very unequal districts," where Santa Monica students would receive half of what Malibu students would receive within five years.

"Equity and fairness appear to have disappeared from the formula," Drati wrote.

Drati cited the update Malibu's financial consultants presented at the meeting, which show Malibu starting at $16,494 per student and in five years receiving $25,998.

By contrast, Santa Monica students would start by receiving $13,592 per student and end by receiving only $14,264 in five years -- a growth rate of 5 percent, compared to 58 percent for Malibu.

"To further disadvantage Santa Monica students, that nominal annual growth is based on a set of assumptions for local revenues in Santa Monica that are unrealistic," Drati wrote.

At the Council meeting, Malibu financial consultant LaTanya Kirk-Carter said Santa Monica students would not lose money.

The District, she said, had embarked on a “winding path of really, really unfair, [un]realistic aspirations to Malibu residents,” according to the report in the Times.

Kirk-Carter said the District's Santa Monica-based financial consultant failed to take into account revenues generated by local sales taxes and annual funding from the City.

The District, she said, was asking Malibu taxpayers to contribute $4 billion over the first 50 years, which is “far, far, far above what is required by the California Department of Education guidelines.”

The latest deadlock comes more than two years after Malibu filed a petition with LACOE on August 31, 2017 seeking to split from the District.

Malibu officials put the attempt on hold pending the results of a report by School Services of California (SSC) analyzing the financial pros and cons of a split ("Malibu Agrees to Pause in Battle to Separate from Santa Monica Public Schools," December 4, 2017).

SSC’s report indicated Santa Monica schools would feel fiscal pain while Malibu’s per pupil funding would increase “dramatically,” absent a revenue-sharing agreement.

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