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Inside a classroom at Malibu Elementary School. Scott Steepleton/Surfside News
Scott Steepleton, Editor
9:38 pm PDT April 14, 2021

Malibu officials on Wednesday took a unique tack in their campaign to separate from a school district based in a city 20 miles down the road but a world away.

In a special meeting, the City Council agreed to let a third party determine the financial terms of the proposed split from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District — and they want district officials to do the same.

However, if the two sides don’t show up for Saturday’s Zoom meeting of the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s Committee on School District Organization “hand-in-hand,” a messy process will likely get even messier. (The passcode is 547531.)

Meanwhile, parents and community members gathered online at 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss various aspects of forming a Malibu Unified School District, topics ranging from financing to the student experience.

Said one parent, “We're just kind of an afterthought.”

Earlier in the day, the council ratified a counter-proposal sent to the district on Tuesday. That offer was in response to a district proposal agreeing that Malibu needed its own district, but stating the only way to accomplish it is a “fair and equitable” split.

City officials believe their proposal is “fair and equitable.” But instead of going back and forth with the district, the city says the county committee or its supervised consultant, School Services of California Inc. should decide on a binding equitable financial outcome.

In addition, the four-prong approach proffered by the city includes:

  • Both sides going on record supporting an independent Malibu district, pending the financial terms of separation;

  • Both sides agreeing that the committee “is well-suited to decide the financial terms of separation;

  • Both sides agreeing not to engage in ex-parte communications with any part of the committee, “their staff, or any consultants regarding the split while the financial terms of the separation are being developed.

“I am encouraged by the district’s acknowledgement that it is time to separate our schools,” Mayor Mikke Pierson said in a statement. “Despite the accusations made by SM-MUSD, the city has repeatedly made it clear that we do not want to see any student harmed by the long-overdue separation of this discontinuous school district.”

“We previously offered a 10-year revenue sharing model, and in this same spirit, we welcome the school finance experts at LACOE and their consultants at School Services of California to establish the financial terms of separation so that the financial terms are fair to all,” Pierson continued. “We urge the district to agree and go with us hand-in-hand to LACOE on April 17 so that we can move forward with the separation that we both agree is necessary.”

The mayor’s statement ended on a theme expressed by some parents and at least one young student who took part in Wednesday’s “breakout room” discussion on the student experience: “We want to move as expeditiously as possible so that no more Malibu students are harmed by the lack of local control over Malibu schools.”

“It doesn’t make sense for us to be part of Santa Monica,” said one parent. “We're not even close. Our lifestyles are different. We’re our own community.”

Melissa Solano, whose daughter attends Malibu Elementary School, was brought to tears when recounting the differences between facilities, programs and class offerings in Santa Monica versus Malibu, with Santa Monica faring much better.

Her daughter, first grader Isabella, told participants, “I wish (the school) had more activities like a singing program and a dancing program and a music program.”

“I would like an art teacher too,” she added, “because I love making art.”

Council member Karen Farrer, who sits on the council’s ad-hoc separation committee, shared a text from a family recounting how the theater arts and music programs in Santa Monica shine, in performance space and instruments, while Malibu is forced to clean rodent pee from their schools’ piano keys.

Farrer asked the group whether Santa Monica parents should be given the benefit of the doubt that they don’t realize how far apart the school experiences are.

Wade Major agreed, adding that district officials aren’t helping the cause with their communication regarding Malibu’s proposal.

“The friends I know in Santa Monica who recently received some of the correspondence from (Superintendent) Dr. (Ben) Drati were really turned off by it,” he said.

Craig Foster, the only Malibu resident on the district Board of Education, summed up how most who spoke during the session feel.

“We're tired of fighting,” he said. “We're tired of fighting for our kids.”