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A split of haves and have mores

Santa Monica-Malibu schools' plan to share PTA funds fuels another secession bid.

April 28, 2013|Matt Stevens

"When we don't have enough," said Rogers, who has a son attending Santa Monica schools, "people are going to try to protect their own."

Pluses for both sides

Education officials said creating a new Malibu district could take years. The idea has to pass through several county and state agencies before being voted on by residents in both communities.

Separation advocates in Malibu believe they have a better chance of succeeding this time around, in part because frustration has been brewing in Santa Monica as well.

Some Santa Monica residents and school board members have said they are tired of focusing time and energy on Malibu issues, such as whether football field lights were too jarring so close to the ocean. The superintendent has assembled a committee to explore breaking the district apart.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, May 02, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Santa Monica-Malibu schools: In the April 28 Section A, an article about Malibu schools seeking a split from the Santa Monica-Malibu School District said that Charlotte Biren played violin in Santa Monica High School's top orchestra. She played the viola.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, May 05, 2013 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Santa Monica-Malibu schools: In the April 28 Section A, an article about Malibu schools seeking a split from the Santa Monica-Malibu School District said that Charlotte Biren played violin in Santa Monica High School's top orchestra. She played the viola.

Because of several bond measures and parcel taxes passed in recent years, the fiscal future of Santa Monica schools hangs less on Malibu property values than it once did.

In addition, the funding plan proposed by Brown to distribute a greater percentage of state money to poorer schools could bolster the case for separation.

Santa Monica-Malibu stands to go from $6,147 per student to $9,058 per student if the governor's plan passes.

A Santa Monica-only district would probably get a similar, if not greater boost, and Malibu too would do fine on its own. In fact, the city is so wealthy that it could operate primarily on local property tax revenues -- without relying on state general funds. It could take in an additional $4.5 million annually on its own.

Santa Monica "will prosper ... and we'll prosper," said Craig Foster, president of the secession group, Advocates for Malibu Public Schools. "The money helps this make sense."

Eric Biren, a Santa Monica parent, said he generally supports the separation and understands the desire to keep what's yours.

Biren's daughter, Charlotte, graduated from Santa Monica High, where she played violin in the school's top orchestra. His son, Abe, is now a junior and plays bass. Biren said he has written checks to support the music program, taken tickets at concerts and worked backstage.

"As a parent, you want to fix your local school, but you don't want to have it all diluted and dispersed for the energy that you're putting in," he said.

"It's a balance. It's a tricky moral question."

But after this many decades, there are some residents who are hesitant to break apart a touchy but still-working marriage that has brought benefits to both communities.

Some parents in Malibu have cherished the diversity of the joint district and opportunities to expose their children to a less-insular world down the highway.

As a district, Santa Monica-Malibu is among the few in the state with a racial makeup that is evenly split between white and nonwhite students.

If Malibu goes it alone, however, the new district would be 78% white.

"We always felt like we wanted our kids to be well-integrated, to feel like they're part of a community," said Agnes Gibson, who has a daughter attending Malibu High. "We like the interaction, the diversity."

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matt.stevens@latimes.com

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