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Malibu Split Headed for April Showdown

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By Jorge Casuso

March 22, 2021 -- The acrimonious battle over Malibu's attempt to split from the local School District is headed for a showdown before County officials next month.

Last Wednesday, District officials announced that the Los Angeles County Office of Education Committee on School District Organization will hold a public hearing on Malibu's petition on April 17. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. via Zoom.

Efforts to split the District -- which were supported by both the School Board and the Santa Monica and Malibu City councils -- hit a major roadblock after Malibu officials walked away from negotiations in October.

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" ("Malibu District Split Hits Major Roadblock," October 29, 2020).

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

The battle centers on the economic impacts of the proposed split, which 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.

Drati cited the update Malibu's financial consultants presented at the October meeting, which showed 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 $14,264 in five years -- a growth rate of 5 percent, compared to 58 percent for Malibu.

Malibu officials note that Santa Monica students would not lose money and that the District has failed to take into account revenues generated by Santa Monica sales taxes and annual funding from the City.

On Tuesday, the Santa Monica City Council -- at the request of Mayor Sue Himmelrich and Councilmembers Kristin McCowan and Phil Brock -- will weigh in once again, only this time with one major caveat.

According to the agenda item, the Council would support the split "only if the terms of separation, including but not limited to the division of revenues and assets, are fair and just to students in Santa Monica schools."

Both the NAACP chapter in Santa Monica and Venice and the ACLU have weighed in.

In a December 18 letter, NAACP Brank President Darrell Goode said Malibu's petition amounts to "redlining," which he said is "the chief tool utilized to segregate communities and create inequality."

The ACLU agrees, adding that the separation would "carve out an enclave in Malibu, which will create a new overwhelmingly white district."

The ACLU also claims the separation violates the California Education Code by failing to equitably divide property and facilities and by promoting racial or ethnic discrimination or segregation.

Malibu's petition "will have a deleterious impact on all students in the District, depriving them of equal educational opportunity by increasing racial segregation and by reallocating funding between students in an inequitable and unfair manner," the ACLU wrote in a letter December 8.

According to District officials, the Malibu split would tilt the racial balance in Santa Monica schools from 51 percent white students to 51 percent minority students.

The new Malibu district would be composed of 78.4 percent white students, while the number of minority students would be reduced by more than half.

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