Malibu activists and leaders pressed the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board of education for a formal agreement to ensure an equal voice on the spending of 20 percent of a $385 million bond measure that will go before voters in November.
SMMUSD board members did not take action following a two-hour discussion Thursday around the possibility of forming a Malibu Measure ES Input Committee, pushing the discussion to November to allow for more time to gather input and resolve differences with the Malibu community.
Measure ES is aimed at providing a portion of $1 billion needed for improvements and technology upgrades at Malibu and Santa Monica schools.
For the past few months, Malibu leaders and activists have urged the district to create a joint powers authority—a legal agreement between two or more jurisdictions working together. In this case, the body would include Malibu representatives and members of the Board of Education.
Malibu-only Committee Could Make Critical Bond Funding Decisions
During Thursday's meeting at Malibu City Hall, several people, including Councilwoman Laura Zahn Rosenthal, pressed the need for a joint powers authority, or something close to it, to ensure Malibu has an equal role in deciding how the funds are spent.
“What we need is a legal entity so Malibu gets to make the decisions that are binding for how their money is spent,” Rosenthal said.
She pointed to an existing agreement between the city of Malibu and Santa Monica Community College. The Malibu Public Facilities Authority, created through a joint powers agreement, includes two city councilmembers and two members of the college’s Board of Trustees. The entity makes decisions about the construction of the college's planned satellite campus in the Malibu Civic Center area.
Craig Foster, who is a Malibu candidate for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and president of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, said he believes having a formal agreement would help build consensus within the community around projects.
“I think it would make a dramatic difference in how smoothly it moves in our community,” Foster said.
However, Superintendent Sandra Lyon advised the board against a joint powers agreement and in favor of a committee, which would be comprised of school and district staffers, parents, neighbors, city officials and other community groups.
Many members of the board maintained that Malibu voices have been heard and represented on improvement projects at Malibu schools.
Board member Nimish Patel said he believes that he has represented Malibu fairly in the past. He added that the board specifically set aside 20 percent of the bond for Malibu schools.
"I hear your voice Malibu," Patel said.
He said the board owes it to the children in the district to resolve differences.
"We have a month left before this bond is up for a vote," Patel said. "We owe it to our community to resolve these differences and are we really looking after the kids or are we angry because of what happened in the past? We have to let go of our emotions and our anger."
Board member Laurie Lieberman said she was not in support of a joint powers agreement.
“We’re talking about construction projects for the school district and not the city of Malibu at large,” Lieberman said.
She said she believes the request for a more formal agreement comes from distrust between the Malibu community and the board.
"I would never vote to support a project in Malibu that people who served on this committee wouldn’t want. I think that the real issue does go back to feeling that there is not a person sitting up here [from Malibu]," Lieberman said.
Jan Maez, the district's chief financial officer, even chimed in.
"My experience there are a lot of members in this community that have a very powerful voice," Maez said.
Allen said he believes it is time for the board to reconsider the issue of ensuring Malibu representation on the board.
"If after the election there continues to be a Malibu member not on the board, those problems will not go away," Allen said. "This is a question about bond allocation dollars on sites."