ImageFive of the six candidates running for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District School Board participated in a school board candidates forum sponsored by the Malibu Rotary Club at Pepperdine University in Malibu on Thursday evening October 24th. Candidates participating in the forum (L to R) were  Ben Allen, Karen Farrer, Jose Escarce, Craig Foster and Maria Leon-Vazquez.  Allen is current SMMUSD board president and Escarce and Leon-Vazquez are also current members of the board.  Farrer  and Foster, along with Seth Jacobson, are part of the Reform Slate from Malibu. Jacobson was in Washington DC and unable to attend this forum

See video of forum at:


 Jessica Davis, a member of the Rotary Club of Indio California before becoming editor of Malibu Patch, was moderator for the event and drew   on questions for the SMMUSD board candidates from the Malibu and Santa Monica communities that had been submitted online in the comment section of Malibu Patch and Santa Monica Patch.

All the candidates seemed poised to answer the questions asked by Davis.  The incumbents all agreed that Malibu should have some type of direct representation on the SMMUSD board.  Even if none of the three Malibu candidates win a seat on the board they agreed that there should be some position created so that there is always a Malibu representative at the school board meetings.   

The Malibu candidates said that on their part, if elected, they would be representing all communities in the district, not just Malibu.  Foster is a member of the  SMMUSD Financial Oversight Committee and Farrer has been a member of SMM PTA Council Executive Board and of Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on DWF,   and they said they had been working well with the Santa Monica people in the district for years. They said that although many in Malibu are wanting to separate Malibu into a new school district, it would take years for this to happen and they know they would have to work with, and get along with, the current school board.  The Malibu candidates contend that the district hasn’t used the district’s financial resources wisely.

The incumbents all pointed out that despite the dwindling amount of money they have been getting from the state the past four years, they have been able to maintain the music and arts program, have increased student scores, saved the jobs of school nurses and other personnel necessary for direct education and have drastically cut administrative staff.  To make up for state cuts in education they have sought and gotten funding from the City of Santa Monica, which raised the sales tax in Santa Monica by .5% starting in 2010, which provided $6 million per year to the School district, plus other grants, both public and private. 

Some of the questions asked of the candidates had to do with why  parents’ contributions to their local schools can’t always be used the way the donors want.  The Malibu candidates said that the current board has made decisions quickly without thinking them through, especially with regards to “equity funding.” The incumbents explained how courts have ruled that money donated to a school in a public school district have to be shared in the school district, if it is designated for personnel. The equity factor is defined in federal law under Title I Part A of the No Child Left Behind Act. The federal government has developed a standardized measure, called the "equity factor" that can be used to determine how evenly (or unevenly) funding is distributed across school districts in a state.  Donations for personnel, such as classroom aides, a reading program, or a choral music, go to a districtwide nonprofit, which distributes the money evenly among schools. Donations for supplies and other extras — assemblies or field trips — remains at each school. If a donation is made for these items they are not subject to the equity factor.  In the SMMUSD  PTA donations add up to more than $2,100 per student at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School in Malibu but only $96 at McKinley Elementary in Santa Monica. Because of equity funding, about half of Point Dume's parent donations  go into the community pot to help other schools in the district that don’t have as much parental support.

All the candidates were in agreement that passing California Ballad Initiatives 30 and 38, would help the current problem in funding the district and keeping the excellence the district has had.

One question had to do with creativity in the schools.  Several candidates share the sentiment of Allen, who said that while many districts “Teach to the test,”  an educational practice where curriculum is heavily focused on preparing for a standardized test, he has never been a advocate of that.  He believes the arts and music programs in the district help students develop a creativity that adds to their overall learning experience and ability.                  

 For election results see: