SMMUSD and City Will Resume Negotiations After Blowing Past 2 Self-Imposed Deadlines For Separating Malibu Out Of SM-Based District

Written by on March 10, 2023


School officials in Santa Monica, and city officials in Malibu are apparently about to jointly miss a third major target that they set last year on their timetable for extricating Malibu from the SMMUSD.

The city and district put out a joint statement today, Friday, that negotiators from both sides would meet in 11 days, on March 21, to try to iron out substantial financial and control issues that are still in the way.

A joint statemenbt issued today said the district and city “have continued to work together to complete the deliverables outlined in the Term Sheet executed last fall. Specifically, the parties are drafting two significant and complicated agreements: a Tax Revenue Sharing Agreement and an Operational Agreement.”

But no details of any progress were provided today.

The two warring parties signed a peace treaty in late October, and published a “time sheet” with deadlines agreed to by both the Malibu city council and the school board. 

The elected school board supposedly represents both Malibu and Santa Monica, but for years has been functioning as the negotiating party for Santa Monicans, who were publicly insulting and denouncing Malibu’s efforts to form its own district. 

That ended in October, when the school board voted for a joint statement that agreed that “it is now in the best interest of all students that a mutually-agreed to process for the formation of an independent Malibu Unified School District and Santa  Monica Unified School District be pursued jointly by the two parties.”

The timetable issued in October said the parties would “prepare and review draft ancillary agreements for the formation of Malibu Unified School District by Dec. 15, 2022.”  That deadline came and went, with only a vague statement from the district spokeswoman that efforts were continuing.

The city and district also committed to try to review and finalize an agreement on a pathway for formation of successor school districts by Jan. 15.  That deadline also came and went.

Today’s joint statement said the city and district are now “drafting two significant and complicated agreements: a Tax Revenue Sharing Agreement and an Operational Agreement.”

The city and district, plus their jointly-appointed mediator, are scheduled to meet together in person at the district office on March 21.   

That is five days after the next self-imposed deadline, next Friday.  That’s when the city and district were scheduled to start obtaining special state legislation required to split the district. 

Existing state law does not adequately address the complicated tax, bond payoffs, and district operational issues in splitting the SMMUSD.  Talks have already been held with state legislators about this issue, so that deadline may have been met, although new specifics have been released to the public.

But a major goal is the middle of April, when plans are supposed to be circulated to the Malibu and Santa Monica voters in general, as well as stakeholders like parent groups, employee unions and others.

If such outreach has happened, the plan being presented to them has not been finalized.

So, why the delay?  

In the past, district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker brushed past questions about the departure of school superintendent Ben Drati, who announced he was quitting almost at the same time that the divorce timetable was announced.

Drati took a new job in Bellflower, a district about the same size as the joint Santa Monica-Malibu district, but considerable larger than the leftover Santa Monica school district might be.

At Malibu, the two city council members most-active in the school independence drive decided not to seek re-election.

Because of Malibu’s extremely-high property tax revenues, Santa Monica interests have been very reluctant to allow Malibu to split out.

Malibu is part of Santa Monica as a historic accident, when Santa Monica did a favor for isolated rural residents and absorbed a one-room schoolhouse in Decker Canyon in the 1950s, the only school in Malibu at that time.

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