Four candidates are vying for three open seats on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) board of education Tuesday, November 2nd.

The board includes seven members elected by Santa Monica and Malibu residents.

Student bodies at Santa Monica, Malibu and Olympic High Schools earlier elect three students who will sit on the school board.

The school district has 16 schools — 12 within Santa Monica and four in Malibu.


– Jose Escarce, school district board of education president and UCLA School of Public Health professor.

“The current board is a cohesive board where all views are heard, respected and considered,” Escarce said in a Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association questionnaire. “The board strives at all times to make thoughtful and intelligent decisions.

“I am proud of my performance as board president this year and especially of my leadership in steering the board through difficult issues such as the district’s new gift policy,” he said.

Currently, district high school students rank in the nation’s top one to two percent on advanced placement courses.

Also, the achievement gap has narrowed between advantaged and disadvantaged students and the district’s budget is balanced, Escarce said.

He is seeking a second term on the school board and hopes to improve special education, promote professional development for teachers and expand fine arts programs.

“My wife and I have three children in district schools,” Escarce said. “I can bring people together to achieve shared goals.”

– Maria Leon-Vazquez, school district board of education member and Santa Monica equal housing attorney.

“As a member and immediate past president of the school board, I worked very diligently on our mission for academic excellence,” Leon-Vazquez said.

She is seeking a second term on the school board and said that a highlight of her first term was that the district was able to promote classroom teachers into a large number of administrative positions.

She also said school superintendent John Deasy has “a global vision in education” and that the district Academic Performance Index scores for all student demographics improved last year.

If reelected, Leon-Vazquez said she would work with the district Education Services office to develop new and individualized education plans for students who have been unable to succeed with current anti-failure plans.

She would also promote programs that help students acquire second languages and help the district find more revenue streams.

“Right now, we are holding the budget,” she said. “We need to be consistently making sure that we are moving forward by finding grant and foundation money and fundraising,” she said.

Leon-Vazquez has been involved in various Santa Monica civic and educational organizations for 30 years.


– Ana Maria Jara, Santa Monica College administrative assistant and parent of four children who attended schools in the district.

“I bring my life experience and skills in working in an economically, racially and culturally diverse community,” Jara said as to why Santa Monica and Malibu residents should vote for her.

If elected, she would promote accountability in implementing district policies, fiscal responsibility in achieving strategic plan goals and equity/equality for all district students.

Jara has served on various education committees and task forces such as the district’s Race and Discipline Task Force and the Strategic Planning Design Team.

She has also been a member of Santa Monica community organizations such as St. Anne’s Church and the Pico Neighborhood Association.

She is the immediate past president of the Santa Monica College Classified Senate.

“As a volunteer, member, president or chair, I have successfully engaged students, leaders, teachers, parents and community members,” Jara said.

“This has led to change in policies at the school level and alternative ways of doing business within the community,” she said.

– Kathy Wisnicki, educator and Malibu community volunteer.

“I am dedicated to finding solutions for our district’s enormous funding challenges, promoting extraordinary achievement for all students and facilitating collaboration among parents, teachers and communities,” Wisnicki said.

She has a doctorate degree in education from UCLA, where she specialized in academic achievement among at-risk youths.

She also served on the district Financial Oversight Committee and Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Council. She was past president of the PTA.

If elected, her priorities are implementing a cost-effective special education plan that includes more spending, but removing the district’s current practice of outsourcing services to expensive private contractors.

Wisnicki would also develop programs to close the achievement gap, provide “rigorous” education for every student and spend “budget dollars responsibly” on programs that provide “proven educational results.”

Since current board member Mike Jordan has chosen not to run for reelection, Wisnicki would be the school board’s lone Malibu representative if elected.

“My track record proves that I am a strong leader who unites diverse groups, makes thoughtful decisions and finds creative solutions,” Wisnicki said.