• SMMUSD's Edifice Complex •
BY ANNE SOBLE
It was disappointing when recommendations that were relayed to the three Malibu school board candidates that they answer the newspaper's questionnaire as individuals and run their campaigns the same way were not heeded because the notion of a collective political statement meant more to them than an individual electoral win.
If their supporters had taken a page from the playbook in the recent city council race and gotten behind one candidate and funded a major campaign for that individual in Santa Monica to try to convince those voters that giving Malibu a strong pro-district voice would be good for their schools as well, a win might have been possible.
Without the willingness to run a down-in-the-trenches traditional campaign, a Malibu win appears extremely unlikely, and that means continuation of the lack of a local voice on the school board. Still, an optimist can opine that there always is the possibility of voters doing the unexpected at the polls and putting a mark next to a Malibu name.
In the past, even when there was an elected school board member who resided in Malibu, that individual was often deeply involved in Santa Monica power politics. Those interests viewed Malibu educational needs as secondary, but at least they were acknowledged when there was a board member who was familiar with them.
Although there is a valid concern that a separate Malibu school district also could become the handmaiden of the city power structure, if that facing that possibility is the only way for the community to have local control and get its fair financial share, it may have to take that chance. Since any separate district also would include unincorporated Malibu, those residents might have to assume the role of district watchdogs because they will find it easier to remain immune to municipal power plays.
The hijacking of district concerns for other political purposes always calls for public vigilance.
Hijacking appears to have happened somewhere along the way when current and past members of the SMMUSD board may have decided, consciously or unconsciously, that what went on in student's minds was less important than the buildings they spend time in—not that physical environment is unimportant, but when faced with limited financial resources, education should be the priority.
Ask Malibu parents who send their children to private schools and most will answer that it's not infrastructure shortcomings that prompt their costly decision to go private, but these schools' educational programs and the top tier colleges that admit their graduates.
It may be perceived as good campaign brochure imagery for board members to be wearing hard hats rather than fighting for what's under them because it is easier get bond and grant money for construction projects and tout them as district accomplishments. Also these projects help keep a burgeoning administrative staff intact and assure lucrative contract largess for longtime business cronies.
SMMUSD's ongoing edifice emphasis results in major district policymaking with little to no Malibu input because the taxpayers in incorporated and unincorporated Malibu are relegated to being statistical data to be used in accounting formulae. Malibu is a key part of the number crunching that ensues, but it is given no role in the idea crunching that determines school district policy.
The idea crunching is what makes for a superior educational system that can send enthusiastic and well-rounded graduates out into the world each year armed with what it takes to accomplish their goals.