Santa Monica would save more than $500,000 if Santa Monica-Malibu Unified , according to estimates released Thursday at a school district Board of Education meeting.
If separated from the current district, the projected deficit for the Santa Monica Unified School District would be about $4.1 million. The school district currently has a $4.6 million deficit, according to Chief Financial Officer Jan Maez.
She gave a detailed 90-minute presentation at the meeting at Malibu City Hall that was attended by more than 100 people, nearly all in support of unification, the term used by education officials for the process to separate school districts.
The $4.1 million projection is based on current staffing levels, Maez said, adding that the estimate could go up or down depending on a number of factors. She noted a number of times that the analysis was preliminary, and more study is needed.
The analysis presented by Maez did not include revenue from a variety of sources, and was only preliminary.
On its own, the proposed Malibu Unified School District would have to shoulder a $2.35 million budget shortfall. That number does not include potential revenue from an existing parcel tax. With the parcel tax, that deficit could go down significantly, according to Maez.
Moving forward, the current school district will have a variety of options, including preparing a feasibility study on state "unification" criteria, at a cost between $30,000 to $40,000, she said. Maez also recommended that the district explore legislation and poll voter opinion on such issues as determining who would be responsible for paying down outstanding bond debt, at a cost of up to $25,000 per study.
“The new district either through legislation or voter approval could agree to continue paying existing debt,” Maez said.
A group comprised of representatives from the cities of Malibu and Santa Monica, the school district, the unions, parent groups and Los Angeles county will meet soon to decide which option to move forward with first.
During a discussion, board member Ralph Mechur said a more detailed, independent analysis of the finances is needed.
“I think that we have to move forward on these evaluations,” Mechur said.
said he was encouraged by the meeting and also wants to move forward.
“I think this meeting today is demonstrative of the fact the board and the district heard the concerns and studied the issues carefully… We are now in a place as a board to be much more thoughtful of the process,” Allen said.
He added that the feasibility study should be done by a finance officer with experience working at a school district.
“The last thing we want to do is enter into an agreement on premises that end up being false … That would be a disaster for the community here,” Allen said.
Board member Nimish Patel said he is also in favor of moving forward.
“I want this to happen. I want us to look at it,” Patel said, adding that he has changed his initial opinion that the costs wouldn’t work out.
“We’re going to hit some roadblocks and we’re going to have to just deal with it. It’s counterintuitive, that breaking something apart, it can be better. But sometimes it works,” Patel said, adding that he first wants to make sure special education and other programs won’t suffer.
Several Malibu residents spoke out during a public hearing, some expressing frustration that Malibu’s needs have not been heard by the district.
Mayor Laura Zahn Rosenthal noted that the city council to sit down with the district, the unions and the city of Santa Monica to talk about separation.
“We are not listened to both on a city level and as a resident … for the last 16 years. I can’t implore you enough to listen to that, whether you agree with it or not. Listen to it. It is real and it is there. Please sit down with us. We are ready to sit down with you right now,” Rosenthal said, adding that the community is willing to shoulder the cost of the studies.
Craig Foster, a Malibu parent, said he was encouraged by the numbers in the presentation.
“We really want to work with you moving forward and I think these numbers show there is something for all of us moving forward,” Foster said, adding that the groups Malibu Schools United and Advocates for Malibu Public Schools are also willing to fund the studies.
Mayor Pro Tem Lou La Monte said Malibu will do what is necessary to move forward with unification, even if that means going to court.
“What we’d rather do is work with you… We’re not going away this time. We want to work with you. We think we can do this together. We’re willing to even pay for it. I’m hoping that you do that tonight,” La Monte said.
Only one parent expressed doubts about separation, because of his child’s special needs.
“This stuff is expensive. I have to suspect that it would be proportionally more expensive in a smaller district than a larger. Malibu would have to committed to shoulder these costs,” said Craig Strachan, who lives near Topanga Canyon.