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Three Malibu Candidates Form School Board Slate

Frank Gruber for Santa Monica City Council


Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

August 7, 2012 -- Three Malibu-based education activists have joined the race for three seats on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District as a “reform slate” that backs the secession of their city from the District.

The slate is made up of three district parents who are members of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, a coalition of parents, businesses and community leaders.

They are Karen Farrer, executive vice president of Malibu High School’s PTA and a member of the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee; Seth Jacobson, a political consultant and former vice president of the Point Dune Elementary PTA, and Craig Foster, a member of both the SMMUSD Financial Oversight Committee and the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee.

Though Foster says the three are not running to “break up the district,” it is part of the slate’s platform that SMMUSD would function better if it were separated into two different districts.

Secession, said Foster, "certainly seems like the best path at the moment.” He added that Malibu’s voice is “routinely ignored” by the School Board.

Malibu -- which has 8,673 registered voters compared to Santa Monica’s 58,947 -- hasn’t had a representative on the School Board since Kathy Wisnicki decided not to run for reelection in 2008.

“Our community suffers from the fact that we are a small appendage to Santa Monica,” Foster said, adding that Malibu makes up roughly 17 percent of the district.

In May, SMMUSD Chief Financial Officer Jan Maez reported to the School Board that secession would cause a newly-formed Malibu district to run an operating deficit of $2.4 million.

Foster said, however, that those calculations were based on the assumption that the new Malibu district wouldn’t get to keep a $3 million parcel tax.

“In order for any of this to work, we need some remedy to keep the Malibu parcel tax,” said Foster.

Though secession has been a longstanding issue, the most recent move came in November when Malibu Mayor Laura Zahn Rosenthal asked the Malibu City Council to vote to explore separating the districts.

The council’s affirmative vote came just before the School Board’s unanimous decision late last November to approve a controversial district-wide fundraising measure which barred Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) from raising money to pay for teachers or other personnel as well as “premium programs” at specific schools.

But Foster said, “We’re not running to split the district. We’re running to fix the district.”

“We’ve been frustrated with the School Board in general,” he said. “One of the problems has been… the focus hasn’t been exclusively on the achievement of the kids.”

He said the Malibu candidates would work to reduce the number of times the School Board meets and give the superintendant more control over improving student achievement.

Also, he said, they would work closer with the teachers unions to make sure that best-practices are being employed as well as take steps to hold principals responsible for students’ performances.

“We’re running to make sure every child in the districts gets the education he or she deserves,” Foster said.

They will be vying for seats currently held by Jose Escarce, Ben Allen and Maria Leon Vazquez, all of whom are running for re-election.

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