• It's Time for Transparency in Malibu Public Education •
Pursuing a feasibility analysis of what is involved in the secession of Malibu from the SMMUSD school district is a long overdue opportunity to pierce the veil of secrecy that surrounds the district's bureaucratic processes. Even if it turns out that a separate Malibu school district might not be viable in this era of fiscal uncertainty, governmental obfuscation, and the labyrinth of state and federal regulations that take much education policymaking out of local hands, the information will be invaluable to Malibu, as well as Santa Monica.
Few governing entities appear to be as public phobic and media averse as the SMMUSD. Basic data is virtually impossible to obtain. Need numbers? "How many Malibu students go to Samohi?—Our computer system can't do that." "How much Title One and other funding goes to which school?—That's too difficult to break down." "Can I get a copy of these statistics?—We'll try to get it done in a few weeks," etc.
At the newspaper office, we have a running joke that new SMMUSD superintendents—or at least the last three—were required to solemnly pledge not to discuss anything with the media that is the least bit negative or might reflect adversely on the system. Leave them a message or send an email about a major public concern and no response will be forthcoming. The district thinks that cheerleaders should do education news reporting.
Going the county petition route may finally mean that financial data for the individual schools and the district, as a whole, will become available. It is impossible to understand current district policy without this, let alone consider a major move such as forming a separate Malibu district. Only then can the prevailing mythology—"Malibu doesn't get its fair share;" "Title One dollars are as much, or more, than private donations;" and "Well-heeled parents don't mean better students," etc.—be proved or disproved.
Although there are always misgivings when politicizing the issue of education—and make no mistake, this effort is as much about politics as education—it is already the case in Santa Monica. Politics is a major force in local school board elections, effectively shutting out Malibu candidates who don't take a blood oath to follow the Santa Monica political machine.
That the current "Malibu" school district's boundaries and the city's boundaries are not the same will also have to be adequately addressed. The school district is all of the 90265 addresses, which include unincorporated Malibu (with its surprisingly different voter demographics), part of unincorporated Topanga, and even some addresses in unincorporated Ventura County.
When the numbers for assessing financial viability are finally available for review, hopefully there will be no going back to closed-door fiscal or any other policymaking. What is then done with the information in terms of seceding from the district, or not, will be a separate subject unto itself. If everyone in the district has a transparent picture of what has hitherto been hidden, there is increased potential for intelligent decision-making, whatever structural system is in place.