Q1: What is the state of the conversations on separating Malibu from the Santa Monica – Malibu Unified School District?
A: For the first time in 30 years, the parents and children of Malibu are moving forward with a clear path to success in separating the districts. AMPS is working with the school board and district superintendent in a step-by-step investigation of separation.
Q2: How is Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS) working with the school board, to make sure that this does not become a contentious divorce?
A: The board has agreed with our request to closely study the financial and political viability of the two districts. The district’s chief financial officer has done a preliminary financial study and made a preliminary conclusion that both districts would be better off if Malibu and Santa Monica went their separate ways. More tax money would flow back from Sacramento if we were two separate districts because of the way state education funding laws work. The next step is to investigate whether the separation would be in compliance with the nine requirements for separation as defined by the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
Q3: But what about other interests, like the teachers and other district employees? How are they reacting to this?
A: Perhaps the main reason that we're finding more success than previous groups seeking separation is that our strategy is to work collaboratively in building the separation plan. Included on the separation investigation committee, in addition to AMPS, are the district superintendent and chief financial officer, three members of the School Board, city council members from the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu, and senior representatives of both the teachers’ union and the classified employees’ union.
Q4: What are the finances of this? How would these districts do in terms of their budgets?
A: The chief financial officer of the SMMUSD said that the new Santa Monica district would be $600,000 better off, all things considered, than their current budget deficit. This does not include the reduction in administrative overhead they would presumably achieve from the 17 percent drop in the student population. The CFO also said that the new Malibu District would have a $700,000 budget surplus, including the provision for a $1 million cushion to pay for the new administrative apparatus. We don't think we have to spend that much money on administration, though.
Q5: Where's this new money coming from?
A: For Santa Monica, the benefits come from keeping all of the funds that flow from the the City of Santa Monica to the school district in various joint use agreements and such. 17 percent of those sales tax revenues currently benefit children in the Malibu schools. That’s $2.4 million a year that would stay in Santa Monica.
For Malibu, the tremendous amount of property value in the new district would mean that we would be funded as a “basic aid” district – which means that Malibu’s tax revenue would exceed the state minimum “revenue limit.” Malibu would get to keep $4 million more than our pro rata share of the money now paid by the state to fund SMMUSD – at no detriment to the Santa Monica kids.
Q6: What would this mean to a Malibu renter, or someone in one of the mobile home parks, or a Malibu property owner? Also, would business taxes go up?
A: Our pledge is that this won't cost anything -- no increases in taxes to anybody in Malibu or Santa Monica. If this costs any kids – in either city -- any money, we won't do it. If it causes any increase in property taxes, parcel taxes, sales taxes or business taxes, we won't do it.
Q7: What does this mean to the current “gift tax” on parent contributions to the schools, which take 15% of a parent’s contribution for the district-wide equity program?
A: Right now, Malibu PTAs are raising over $2 million a year, and we send nearly 15 % of that to Santa Monica for the Equity Fund, the vast majority of which is spent in Santa Monica. That’s more than $200,000 currently lost to Malibu schools. Keeping that money here in Malibu will certainly help to fund our new school district.
In addition, at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, the district-wide fundraising policy will be implemented. That very controversial plan completely eliminates the ability of school PTA’s and booster clubs to spend money for staff, including staff for school enrichment programs. A Malibu school district would not participate in this Santa Monican plan.
Q8: What about the current parcel tax and outstanding bond issues? How would those be handled?
A: Because of counterintuitive legal constraints, a separation of Santa Monica and Malibu would eliminate the parcel tax in Malibu. Our preferred solution is a special bill in Sacramento to sort this out: to keep in place the taxes that Malibu has already approved – again, without increasing any taxes or levying new ones.
Q9: Who is behind this and is there a role in it for me?A: The leadership for separation of the two districts is coming out of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, a group founded two years ago to support our local public schools. We're actively seeking conversation, communication, involvement and support from every single segment of the Malibu community. This includes community members in incorporated and unicorporated Malibu, familes with children in Malibu’s public schools and everybody else, members of the school communities, and other stakeholders in the success of our local public schools.
Q10: What can I do?
A: First, please accept our invitation to be part of AMPS. Please sign our petition, join our mailing list, become a member of AMPS, and/or donate to AMPS. Also, please attend our monthly meetings -- they only last 90 minutes – at City Hall. They're on our calendar. Please invite us to speak to your business, your church, and/or your friends. We want to explain the situation, answer your questions, and, most importantly, keep you informed. We want you to join us in this process. The potential outcome is extremely exciting and we’d love your help!