• Malibu, SMMUSD and the Law •
The people of Malibu strongly support public education. They are eager to get behind local schools in their striving to be the best possible institutions of learning that they can be. Whether Malibuites have children currently in local schools, have grown children who formerly attended local schools, or have never sent a youngster to public school, they are aware that strong schools mean a strong community, and a strong community contributes to strong real estate values.
So why then are so many people on all sides of so many current local school issues saying loudly that they are fed up with what they believe to be a district administration that has been doing things behind closed doors for so long that it has forgotten that it is supposed to answer to the community it serves? From the special education brouhaha that exploded two years ago to the parking and athletic field lighting issues today, it is difficult not to ask if this is a district that prefers to rule by decree.
Not only do some district officials seem not to be perturbed when it is disclosed that they have acted illegally, some of them also make public statements that eerily sound as if they think that the legal system applies differently to schools. Participants at meetings where these issues arise say these statements reflect a condescension that adds insult to injury for members of the community who already think the district is not to be trusted.
Carried to its conclusion, do school personnel who molest students, or those who steal from district coffers, answer to a different set of rules? If not, why do some district officials think they have special dispensation from municipal zoning laws or state environmental protection legislation? No one wants to think the district believes that there are two sets of laws, one for the citizen riffraff who show up at meetings to take part in the policy process, and another for the policymakers. Didn’t we just hold a national election that addressed this sort of governmental imperiousness?
The SMMUSD repeatedly promises accountability and transparency, then brings consultants to Malibu who don’t have a clue about the community and regard requests for information with irritation. The district has to face up to the need to work with residents on all sides of every issue, hear their views, then look for common ground that balances disparate interests.
Finally, after years of entreaty, the school board is now posting its meetings online in a timely manner. It even appears as if the district is scheduling more public meetings in Malibu. What’s that about the squeaky wheel? Next, the district has to demonstrate that it isn’t going to dictate school policy, but create it by consensus in an atmosphere marked by mutual respect for all.