After considerable discussion, members of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Board of Education voted five to one, with one abstention, to allocate an additional $42 million to improve the facilities at the District’s middle schools.
Controversy over the decision arose at the March 13 meeting after School Board President Oscar de la Torre objected to the District’s staff recommendation on how the $42 million should be allocated to the District’s three middle schools. The staff suggested that John Adams Middle School (JAMS) receive $12 million, Malibu Middle School $14 million, and that $16 million be allocated to Lincoln Middle School.
In the de la Torre’s view, the staff recommendation was not being done “in accordance with equity” because the “needs at JAMS are tremendous.” He suggested increasing the allocation to JAMS by $2 million by lowering the allocations to the other two schools by $1 million each. However, this did not go over well with the other Board members, such as Ralph Mechur, who suggested that the additional $2 million be taken from the $20 million additional money that had still not been allocated so “one school is not pitted against another.” A motion supporting Mechur’s suggestion failed, and ultimately the Board approved the original staff recommendation with Board member Maria Leon-Vasquez voting against it and de la Torre abstaining.
Leon-Vasquez voted “no” because she believes the facilities at JAMS, particularly the science labs, need to be upgraded in order to “to attract our local middle class families to come to the school.” During the discussion she mentioned that many middle class Sunset Park families are opting to send their middle school age children to private schools rather than JAMS, and one of the reasons is the inadequate facilities at the school. She also stressed that JAMS is a science magnet, and therefore its lab facilities need to be updated for the “21st century.”
After the vote, the Board gave direction to District staff to identify and prioritize additional projects based on the “vision and equity” for JAMS.
The voters from the cities of Santa Monica and Malibu approved the $268 million Bond Measure BB in November of 2006 to fund the projects proposed in the District’s 20-year Facilities Master Plan. Earlier this year, it became apparent that $62 million in additional funding for District facilities would be available. Several factors played a role in the increase. The Board agreed to accelerate the construction program from eight years to six; this way, less money would be lost due to the estimated construction cost escalation factor of $1 million per month. This move also increased the developer fees the District would receive to $10 million and redevelopment funds to $15 million. In addition, by issuing the construction bonds sooner, the District could receive $6 million additional funds in interest.