Published on March 24th, 2017 | by Lea Yamashiro


Split of the Santa Monica and Malibu districts

The SMMUSD Board of Education (BOE) discussed potential logistical obstacles of having separate Santa Monica and Malibu districts at its meeting on Tuesday, March 7, and its members now agree that the split is very probable, despite financial complications that have impeded the plan’s progress up to now.

The SMMUSD Board of Education (BOE) has long discussed the possibility of splitting into two districts, but financial complications have impeded the plan’s progress. At the meeting on Tuesday, March 7, the Board discussed potential logistical obstacles of having separate Santa Monica and Malibu districts, and its members now agree that the split is very probable.

This new conclusion by the BOE is reflective of the way the Board ruled a year ago. Last March there was a School Board meeting to discuss the potential split, or, as it is called by district officials, “unification”. At that meeting, members were appointed to the Malibu Unification Negotiation Committee (MUNC), and were tasked with ensuring that this unification would create two financially-viable districts.

The Board initially hired the MUNC to present findings within 60 days, but it took 11 months before they were able to write a conclusive reportlonger than they had expected. The committee was assisted by outside companies, law firms, and other sources whom were hired by the Board. They hired School Services of California as financial consultants and hired the legal firm Procopio, whose lawyers advised on legal structures having to do with various partial taxes and the voter-backed bonds.

Board Member Craig Foster felt that the MUNC report was very informative and was able to reach his own conclusions about the implications of the split.

“I think MUNC has done just an amazing job at finding a solution that serves everybody’s needs–far more than I would have thought possible–and I’m super grateful for the hard work they did for this,” Foster said. “I think that it puts us at a very good position to consider how we could move forward towards having two high-performing school districts that are the best of friends.”

Financial projections about the split have had some concerning implications, resulting in the split becoming a contentious issue. Initially, district officials worried a potential Santa Monica Unified School District (SMUSD), including Samo, would be left with significantly less revenue and room for expenditures than it has now. Board member Ralph Mechur, after being presented with the MUNC’s report, is interested in making sure that, if the split goes through, both districts are left in equal states financially.

“What’s most important to me is to make sure both districts will have the resources to allow their students to continue to dream about their futures without any hesitation as to those dreams becoming real,” Mechur said. “We don’t want to look back and realize that our resources limit our educational abilities.”

Because the median house price in Malibu is much higher than that of Santa Monica — about $2.9 million and $1.4 million respectively — property tax revenue in Malibu would be significantly higher than that in Santa Monica, resulting in more funding for the former.

To combat financial problems, the “unification” committee created a 12-year forecast of the revenues of the separate districts, from which they formulated the “Revenue Neutrality Formula.” As a potential Santa Monica-only district would receive less funding than a Malibu-only one, this formula establishes a series of scheduled payments that Malibu would make to Santa Monica that would maintain predictable and stable revenue for both districts going forward in the next 30 years. The result of their work was a unanimous recommendation from the committee to the school board to accept the findings of the report, and accept the accuracy of their formula.

“I intend to get all the information I can, listen to all of the people from our communities who want to talk to the board, and make a good, thoughtful decision,” Board Member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein said.

The unification is a large move for SMMUSD. During this time of debate and reflection, the people of Santa Monica and Malibu have to do some of their own research to understand wholly how this action might affect them, their children, their schools, and their lives.

“In principle, I support Malibu’s efforts to separate from the district, so I am a supporter, in principle, of the unification. However, Santa Monica has to be left whole,” Tahvildaran-Jesswein said. “What does “whole” mean and look like? Can we collaborate upon and negotiate an agreement about Malibu making payments to Santa Monica so that Santa Monica is whole? I can’t support unification if Santa Monica is at a deep deficit.”

There will be a public meeting on April 20 to discuss the findings of the MUNC report. At the school board meeting, this specific item of discussion will be on the agenda and properly addressed. Board members have time to gather their thoughts and opinions leading up to the meeting.


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