Ralph Mechur, who has served on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education since August 2007 when he filled the seat of former board member Emily Bloomfield, was appointed school board president at a board meeting Thursday, December 11th.

Board member Barry Snell, who was elected in November 2006, will serve as vice president.

“Our district is fortunate to have such dedicated elected officials,” said interim district superintendent Tim Cuneo. “I look forward to working with both Mr. Mechur and Mr. Snell as they take on their new leadership roles.”

Mechur and Snell will each serve for a one-year term. The Board of Education appoints its officers from among board members.

Board member Oscar de la Torre recently finished serving a term as president, as did Jose Escarce as vice president.

“It was great to be in this role in a difficult time in our school district,” said de la Torre.

Cuneo thanked both de la Torre and Escarce for their contribution to the school board.

Then the school board meeting was temporarily handed over to Sarah Wahrenbrock, assistant to the superintendent, who accepted nominations from board members for school board president and vice president.

De la Torre nominated Mechur as president.

“I’m honored to be able to serve as president for the next year,” Mechur said. “I’m looking forward to continuing the success of the retiring president and vice president.”

Board member Maria Leon-Vazquez then nominated Snell as vice president.

The board members also changed seats, as is standard procedure once a year, by drawing numbers out of a hat.

NEW BOARD MEMBER — The meeting was also the first for new board member Ben Allen, who was the top votegetter in November’s election.

Allen, the youngest school board member at age 30, has served on the district’s Financial Oversight Committee for the past year and a half, grew up in Santa Monica and attended district schools.

“His previous involvement with SMMUSD will be an asset to our district,” noted Cuneo.

Said Allen, “I’m really excited about having the opportunity to give back and serve the school district that raised me, that’s now educating my little niece and so many kids in our community.

“I’m certainly concerned about the budget situation. The financial situation is not pretty. It’s going to be a challenge finding out how to maintain that high quality education that we’ve come to expect from our schools in this difficult financial climate.”

Allen, an attorney, is concerned about the current financial crisis and massive looming budget cuts, but he noted that Santa Monica has a “really supportive community that has continued to help our schools out in the good times and the bad.”

He adds that the district has built up a pretty healthy reserve that will help “cushion the blow” — and that he is ready to take on the challenge.

Allen became interested in running for the school board when he discovered there was an open seat, as former board member Kathy Wisnicki chose not to run for a second term.

He says he has long had an interest in education and comes from a family of educators. His mother is a public school teacher and his father is a professor at UCLA.

Allen has also been involved with education policy work and has experience teaching, although he does not have a credential.

“I’ve got sort of a combination of energy, enthusiasm, deep roots in the community, a new generational perspective and some pretty substantial public education policy-making experience,” he said.

Allen has a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, a master’s from Cambridge University and a law degree from UC Berkeley Law School, which he received this year.

He also served on the University of California Board of Regents from 2006 until this year, an experience he called “fascinating.”

“I learned a lot about the intricacies of California’s public education system,” he said. “I was really anxious after serving on the Regents to be involved in public service work and public education, and this was an opportunity that was out there.

“There was an open seat on the board and I decided to throw my hat in the ring, thinking my experience and perspective could be helpful to the district.

“Did I expect to be doing this so soon? Probably not. But I think I’m going to be able to make a real contribution.”

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