The Malibu Monday voted unanimously to initiate forming a new school district that would sever it from Santa Monica and, proponents contend, give Malibu residents more say in school-related decisions.
The council endorsed a proposal by Malibu Mayor Laura Zahn Rosenthal and council member Lou La Monte for the two city leaders to work with local activists and officials from the city of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District on a petition requesting the county do a Malibu school district feasibility study.
"We believe it's time for the two cities and the school district—the Board of Education and the superintendent—to work together and to get enough information to work on an agreement to see if this is going to be viable," Rosenthal said.
Although the council members said this would be an effort to determine if forming a Malibu school district was feasible, many of the public speakers were already convinced secession was the best plan.
"For too long, we have tolerated our place in a district that was not primarily dedicated to the excellence of our particular schools," said Craig Foster, a leading Malibu education activist. "For too long, we've fallen short in making the choices and offering the programs Malibu deserves."
To many people in Malibu, . This is seen in how the board handled issues such as the distribution of capital improvement funds in 2007-08 and the rejection of charter application earlier this year.
Foster was among the several public speakers who addressed the council Monday in favor of the speration.
"Together, we can build a district that will invite many of the city's children back from private schools and attract many wonderful new families to live in our community, to support our city, to shop at our stores and enrich our schools," he said.
Local attorney and parent Mike Sidley was the lone voice at in opposition to the council's action. He said Malibu has excellent public schools because it is in the SMMUSD, and there was no reason "to upset the apple cart."
Sidley also questioned the legality of the city getting involved in an education issue. Christi Hogin said a municipal government could not spend resources on education matters, but Rosenthal said, "The only city resources I see putting into this are me and Lou at this point." She said they were looking for private citizens to raise money for the effort.
Rosenthal and La Monte want to work with the other stakeholders to draft a collaborative petition that would be submitted to the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization. This would force the committee to do a feasibility study, which could be followed by a vote of the committee (whose decision could be appealed to the state) and later the people of the Malibu area (and possibly Santa Monica as well) on a proposal to form a Malibu district.
"Nobody in this audience and none of those watching at home wants two separate school districts if it's not going to be feasible for both of those school districts [to exist] … but we will never know unless we all work together to come to an agreement and then get the county to do a feasibility study," Rosenthal said.
There is an ongoing debate on how much Malibu contributes financially to the SMMUSD compared to how much the residents get out of the district. It has been argued that Malibu benefits from the city of Santa Monica's $13.5 million annual contribution to the SMMUSD, but others say Malibu residents pay more than their fair share of parcel tax money.
"We don't know what the money issues are, and that's why we need to work with the school district and the city of Santa Monica to find out," Rosenthal said.
She added that this move is not connected to expected to be approved by the Board of Education Tuesday night at Lincoln Middle School.
Rosenthal said, "We have been working on this for more than a year with a number of citizens in Malibu."