AMPS Town Hall

SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati (left) and School Board Member Craig Foster

Community members slowly trickled in to a Sept. 12 town hall meeting hosted by Advocates for Public Malibu Schools (AMPS); an hour later, many of the seats in the city hall auditorium were filled with residents from across the city.

AMPS President Kathryn Alice kicked off the meeting with a virtual toast to celebrate the numerous changes happening in Malibu schools and the district.

“And I want us to celebrate because we have never been where we are now,” she said to the crowd. “... We have a lot to be excited about and a lot of work to still do.”

The nonprofit’s top priority is passing Measure M in the upcoming election on Nov. 6. 

For the first time, two separate school facilities improvement bonds were approved for Santa Monica and Malibu, respectively. Malibu residents will see Measure M on ballots while Santa Monica residents will see Measure SMS.

The school district agreed to a Malibu Facilities Advisory Committee to give recommendations to the superintendent and school board in deciding necessary changes for Malibu schools; however, the Malibu bond will ultimately be the responsibility of the school board until Malibu gets its own district.

The money from the bond, if passed, will go only toward changes coming down the pipeline with the Malibu realignment. 

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District School Board Member Craig Foster—Malibu’s only representative—and Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati took to the floor to discuss those changes, the first of which is a plan to separate the school district. 

“We have an agreement in principle with the school district to create an independent Malibu and an independent Santa Monica School District,” Foster said, adding that “this has been a very, very long held dream of Malibu’s.”

Following the split, the two newly created school districts would share revenue, the idea being there would be no financial loss to either city’s schools following separation.

On Sept. 5, Drati and Malibu City Manager Reva Feldman went before the LA County Office of Education Committee on School District Reorganization to ask for more time in negotiating the separation terms—it has been one year since the city independently filed a petition with LACOE to begin separating the school district into two.

Drati said the meeting was successful.

“They just asked a few questions. They [LACOE] like the progress we’re making so we’ll continue to update,” he described. “... This isn’t just about the City of Santa Monica and the district. There’s a third party, which is the state.”

When asked by an attendee how long separation would actually take, Foster gave an estimate of approximately two years. At that time, if the separation goes through, residents will be able to vote to approve a Malibu Unified School District and its subsequent school representatives.

While the terms are negotiated, local students and parents will see big changes within the next two years with the Malibu realignment. 

These changes include ridding Malibu High of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and constructing new school buildings; combining Juan Cabrillo and Pt. Dume Marine Science School student bodies at the Pt. Dume site; and creating a middle school independent of MHS.

“We also heard from the experts hired to do the work at Malibu High School and Malibu Middle school that these buildings ... forget the PCBs, these buildings are 60 years old,” Foster said. “I’m going to just quote somebody—‘These buildings were obsolete when they were built.’”

Foster announced that the first piece of the much-anticipated middle school building, building E, was installed that same day, Sept. 12. 

In addition to Measure M, private fundraising will play a role in supporting these changes. 

The school board voted in 2011 to centralize fundraising, which angered many Malibu parents. In a reversal, it approved a motion to decentralize fundraising this July, a move well-received by Malibuites. 

SMMUSD enrollment

The chart above shows a rapid decline in enrollment for Malibu schools (red) compared to Santa Monica (blue)

Foster pointed out that the PCB debacle and centralized fundraising “[dropped] Malibu enrollment like crazy.” With these new changes, all parties involved said they hope to attract a more robust student body by establishing facilities designed with the district’s 21st century learning ideals in mind. 

“If we don’t pass this bond, none of this is going to happen,” Foster said in response to a question. “We’re going to be at a dead stop. And that’s a fact. That’s not where I want to go with this.”

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