THE CANDIDATES seeking three four-year terms on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education include (from left) incumbent Ben Allen, Karen Farrer of Malibu, incumbent Jose Escarce, Malibu resident Craig Foster, incumbent Maria Leon-Vazquez and Seth Jacobson of Malibu.

Voters in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will face a Board of Education ballot with three incumbents seeking reelection and three challengers pushing for change.
The three incumbents, each from Santa Monica, defend many actions taken by the board during troubling economic times over their terms, while the challengers – residents of Malibu – hope to see some reforms, including more consideration of education needs in Malibu.
The candidates — incumbents Jose Escarce, Ben Allen and Maria Leon-Vazquez, and challengers Karen Farrer, Craig Foster and Seth Jacobson — are vying for three four-year terms on the Board of Education in the election Nov. 6.
They each gave their views on issues such as early learning programs, potential budget cuts and fairly representing both Santa Monica and Malibu at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica Oct. 17.
While the board has not had a member from Malibu in several years, the incumbents touched on the benefits of experience in seeking to continue representing the communities.
“Through these challenging economic times it’s imperative that we have proven leadership and experience to maintain control of our budget and prioritize the needs of our families and teachers,” said Leon-Vazquez, who is seeking a fourth term.
In their opening statements the three Malibu community members argued that the district needs changes in order to continue improving educational opportunities for students.
“I’d like to see change and I think we need it as soon as possible. It’s time for inclusion, collaboration, focus and accountability,” said Farrer, a parent and longtime school volunteer, adding that she wants to make change throughout the district.
In regards to how candidates believe they would fairly represent both Santa Monica and Malibu schools, Escarce, who has served for 12 years, noted that the board has a record of equally distributing funds to all schools, and provided extra advanced placement faculty to Malibu High School, where it also fought to ensure that the school had lights to play football games at night. Allen, who most recently served as board president and is seeking a second term, said he has worked hard to be a bridge-builder and make decisions for the best interests of all students.
Challengers said that some Malibu residents feel that they have not been listened to and they would work to address every child’s concerns.
“We need to work together as one community and a set of communities underneath that to air questions that need to be decided, to listen to all different people and their needs and put a plan together that takes care of everyone,” said Foster, a teacher.
The candidates also spoke on the importance of Propositions 30 and 38 – state ballot measures calling for tax increases that, if passed by voters, would direct funding toward schools – when asked about budget cut proposals that would not affect classrooms. If both measures fail, the district would be forced to make about $5 million in cuts, school officials said.
Many of the candidates noted that the district would have to raise revenue quickly, possibly through a parcel tax or districtwide fundraising. Farrer said that parcel tax measures have had difficulty passing due to a feeling of disconnect by some people in Malibu.
Allen and Escarce said some revenue generating measures like Y and YY from a past election could be another possibility. Allen added that the school board has built a healthy reserve that should protect the board from having to make major cuts this year.
“This question really dramatizes how important it is that people get out and vote ‘yes’ on Propositions 30 and 38,” Allen said.
One ongoing topic of discussion that has highlighted tensions about how to adequately address all schools’ needs is the potential separation into two Santa Monica and Malibu districts. Jacobson, a parent and communications executive, suggested that the separation would bring $4.6 million to the coffers and 20 to 30 new teachers for the cities.
“That is one of the goals if it’s feasible, and many on this board have agreed they would like to explore that with us,” Farrer said.
Leon-Vazquez said the possibility of district separation is years away and the board members would have to consider ways of raising revenue quickly without the approval of Props. 30 or 38.
Another option to save funding would be to reduce the school year by five to 15 days, and while some candidates said they would support furlough days, others said they would explore other options first. Escarce noted that cutting the number of school days has been done in the past and it requires the involvement of bargaining units.
“Furlough days can be an effective way to save money temporarily and preserve programs while we figure out some sort of local measure, and while the state tries to figure out how it’s going to deal with the crisis,” Allen said.