SANTA MONICA/MALIBU—Three appointed members of the Malibu Unification Negotiations Committee representing Santa Monica issued a letter stating that they were not going to attend the planned negotiations meeting scheduled on Thursday, April 14. This comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed challenging the way that Santa Monica-Malibu School District Board of Education members are elected.

The six-member Malibu Unification Negotiations Committee was ratified on January 21 by the SMMUSD Board of Education. The committee includes Malibu Mayor Laura Rosenthal, Kevin Shenkman, and Manel Sweetmore, representing Malibu and selected by the city manager of the city of Malibu. The Santa Monica members, Tom Larmore, Paul Silvern and Debbie Mulvaney, were selected by Superintendent Sandra Lyon.

The Santa Monica representatives issued the letter of refusal to SMMUSD Board President Laurie Lieberman and Superintendent Lyon, requesting that the process is postponed until the committee members have the ability to converse with the school board and superintendent.

The issue that the Santa Monica committee members have is that the complaint was filed by Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS), along with other parties, against the city of Santa Monica. The complaint was filed in the Superior Court of Los Angeles on Monday, April 11, and asks the court to declare that the Santa Monica City Charter provision specifying at-large elections to the school board is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) and the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.

“This lawsuit was filed by AMPS and Mr. Shenkman completely without warning, thereby materially impairing the collaborative nature of our discussions. In the spirit of collaboration we should have been informed that this action was forthcoming,” said Tom Larmore in a press release. “We are concerned that the inclusion of issues relating to the District and the participation of AMPS have no purpose other than to attempt to influence our negotiations. We view this as a serious matter and believe that no further meeting should be held until we have an opportunity to report to the Board and receive direction from them.”

AMPS is a group of Malibu residents who are working to create an independent Malibu Unified School District. SMMUSD Board President Laurie Lieberman responded to the filed complaint with the following statement:

“I share the concerns of the Santa Monica negotiating team members. The full seven-member Board of Education acted in good faith to further the investigation of the feasibility of a separate Malibu Unified School District and this legal action could jeopardize our ability to move forward in a productive manner. We are extremely disappointed that our effort in the past few months to address the interest of the Malibu community to create its own district have been interrupted by the new development.”

Superintendent Lyon shared the sentiment that negotiations should be halted until the board members can meet and discuss.

The board will hear a report by the three members of the Santa Monica negotiation team to discuss the continuation of the Malibu unification process at an already scheduled board meeting on Thursday, May 5. The meeting will take place at Malibu City Hall. For more information regarding the committee’s purpose and current negotiations you can visit

SMMUSD has not released a comment on the lawsuit at this time.