The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education voted Wednesday to place a $385 million bond measure on the November ballot to fund facility and technology upgrades.
At the urging of Malibu community leaders, it includes a provision to give 20 percent of the funds to Malibu schools.
If approved by voters, it would cost homeowners $185 per year for up to 30 years (and possibly more for property owners in Malibu). It would only be used for public works projects and facility improvements and could not be used to fund teacher or other employee salaries.
"Our schools are aging," said Superintendent Sandra Lyon. "We do want to create 21st century learning environments."
The board agreed to place the measure on the ballot in a 6-1 vote with board member Ralph Mechur dissenting. The district will have until Aug. 10 to get the wording of the bond measure to Los Angeles County for it to make it on the Nov. 6 ballot.
"This is going to involve a great deal of collaboration, communication and engagement,” board member Ben Allen said after the vote
Given California's ongoing budget woes and November's already-crowded ballot, much of the board discussion Wednesday centered on timing.
"The time to do it is now because public education is in a major crisis," said board member Oscar de la Torre.
It will accompany Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 and activist Molly Munger's Proposition 38. If both tax initiatives do not pass, the school district could face up to $10 million in next year and could be forced to place a parcel tax on the ballot in the spring, finance staffers warned.
At the same meeting, the board unanimously voted to support Brown's and Munger's measures.
According its analysis, the district will face $1.2 billion in facility needs in the next 15 years. With only $268 million in Measure BB bonds left, it needs to find another source for the $932 million.
Future needs include the reconstruction of existing buildings, replacement of temporary classrooms with new buildings, infrastructure upgrades and updated computer and technology equipment.
"We are depriving students, we are depriving teachers of what they need," said Board member Laurie Liberman.
Board member Jose Escarce, who initially opposed placing the bond measure on November’s ballot, said he changed his opinion based on two factors, especially the support of Superintendent Lyon.
“This will help us develop a technology plan. I certainly expect that it incorporates training for our staff,” Escarce said.
But board member Ralph Mechur said he could not support putting the bond measure ballot as soon as November.
“I feel we can do this in 2014 either June or November and we will be better prepared. There are so many unanswered questions about what we would do,” Mechur said.
Mechur wanted the district to focus on supporting Propositions 30 and 38 to make sure either one or both pass in November.
But board member Laurie Liberman disagreed. She said passage of either state bond measure would not hurt the chances of a future parcel tax in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
Lyon, who came out in support of the bond measure early in Wednesday's meeting, said polls indicate voter support.
“I think many parents are looking for not just a quality teacher but also a welcoming and enriching learning environment,” she said.
Barry Snell, Community for Excellent Public Schools member, said, "not voting to support his measure would be a missed opportunity."
Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council Co-President Lori Whitesell said the messaging around the bond will have to be carefully thought out.
“Parents are going to be very concerned about what that technology piece looks like,” Whitesell said.
Craig Foster, president of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, chastised the board for not including Malibu in the feasibility committee’s discussion about the bond measure.
“Given everything we all know, given Malibu’s lack of a voice in general and specifically in this process, given Malibu’s disproportionate share of the burden, given Malibu’s aspirations for independence, it would be easier for Malibu to oppose a bond measure than to support it,” Foster said.
He outlined possibilities of how the school board could begin to gain the support of his group.
Foster asked for the board to set a percentage for Malibu schools written into the bond of at least 20 percent, which he said would still be “too low.” Foster also said the Malibu portion of the money would need to be governed by a joint powers agreement, made up of two Malibu City Council members and two Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Board of Education.
"The burden is on them. If they want Malibu’s support, they have got to give Malibu a reason to vote for this," he said.
Karen Farrer of Malibu echoed Foster’s sentiments.
“You all can pass this without us. We have no control over this, like many issues," she said of Malibu. "The least you can do is guarantee us that 20 percent."
Board member Jose Escarce said that he wants to make sure the bond would meet the needs of every school in the district.
“The point is to make sure we work in some collaborative way that we work with the campuses and to make sure we are meeting their priorities,” Escarce said.
Board member Laurie Liberman said she is in favor of finding a way to meet Malibu’s needs in future discussions.
“What I think I hear being requested is something that goes beyond site by site, but somehow addresses in some kind of way, the participation or some kind of guaranteed participation of what is the Malibu pathway,” Liberman said.
Board president Allen said he supports exploring the idea of a joint powers agreement with Malibu.
The bond measure needed five votes to pass.