The PTA at Point Dume Elementary in Malibu is a fundraising machine. Parents collected about $2,100 per student in the 2009-10 school year, money that helped pay for music and art programs, as well as a dedicated marine science lab.

But now the Santa Monica-Malibu school board wants to funnel much of that money away and, in the name of educational equality, give it to other district campuses.

The move has sparked an effort in Malibu to secede from the district, igniting a battle between one wealthy community and its less wealthy neighbor that echoes across the state.

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. —

The district's effort to redistribute PTA money adds to the trend in California since the 1970s to equalize funding between rich and poor schools. Gov. Jerry Brown rolled out a new plan earlier this year that would radically alter the status quo, moving the lion's share of educational dollars to poor schools.

Some Malibu parents are just fed up.

"It's not fair," said Maria Kuznetsova, who has a 6-year-old son at Point Dume. "You don't want to donate to somebody else. You know how it goes. It disappears."

Still, secession is a hard idea to swallow for some in the community known as much for its liberal politics as its sandy beaches and Creamsicle sunsets.

Deborah Allen, who has two sons in the district and helps run Malibu High's booster club, said she has no problem with the policy that will send money her school raises to students who need it most.

"Some of the kids in Santa Monica, the only hot meal they get each day is lunch," Allen said. "So if half of my money, or whatever portion, goes to them, I'm OK with it."


Only in this awkward marriage between two beach cities could Santa Monica be considered the poor spouse. Its median household income is 27% higher than the rest of the county. Its ocean-front homes are the stuff of California dreams, although there are less affluent pockets inland.

The city's wealth, however, pales in comparison with Malibu, where median incomes, at $133,000 a year, are nearly double Santa Monica's.

When the Santa Monica school district first added a campus in Malibu more than 60 years ago, the joining of the two communities made sense. Santa Monica had an established system; Malibu was just a rustic beach town.

But over the decades, the two cities have grown — and grown apart. Malibu opened its own high school in 1992. It now has three elementary schools and about 2,000 students. Leaders of the separation movement say it's time the for city to make its own educational decisions for its schools.

The core of the problem is the mismatch between the wealth of Malibu, population 13,000, and the political power of its southern neighbor Santa Monica, population 90,000. Santa Monica has 10 schools and about 9,000 students. There hasn't been a Malibu resident on the school board since 2008.

In 2003, Malibu parents launched the first of at least three serious attempts to secede from the joint school district.

The latest effort was sparked in 2011, when the joint school board unanimously passed a policy that beginning in 2014 will bar PTAs from raising money for professional development or staff, such as instructional aides.