Up Front With The Santa Monica-Malibu School Board Candidates

Friday, 19 Oct 2012, 2:01:00 AM

Brenton Garen

Ben Allen, www.benallen.net
Courtesy image
Ben Allen, www.benallen.net

The race for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Board has six candidates vying for the three open seats on November 6.

Three of those candidates are incumbents who live in Santa Monica: Board President Ben Allen, board member José Escarce, and board member Maria Leon-Vasquez.

The three challenging candidates are all Malibu residents: Karen Farrer, Seth Jacobson, and Craig Foster.

All candidates were asked to respond to the following questions. Seth Jacobson did not return responses before time of press.

Full Name: Ben Allen

Website: www.benallen.net

Endorsements: Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS), Santa Monica Democratic Club, Malibu Democratic Club, Democratic Party, Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR), People for the American Way PAC, SEIU Local 99, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, and UNITE-HERE (full list on his website link above).

Current office/profession: School Board President.

Previous Experience: Former University of California Regent.

Education: UC Berkeley Law School (Boalt Hall) JD, research on law and politics of California’s school finance system, 2008; Cambridge University, M.Phil., Latin American Studies, 2001; Harvard University, BA, magna cum laude, History, 2000 (study abroad-Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, Mexico); Santa Monica High School, Class of 1996, Student Body President, Troop 2 Eagle Scout, Homecoming King, Captain Hook in Peter Pan; Lincoln Middle School (Santa Monica), Franklin Elementary School (Santa Monica).

Date/place of birth: 34 years old / Grew up in Santa Monica.

Biography: I grew up in our community, attending District schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, serving as Student Body President at Samohi before going on to pursue higher education. I’m fluent in Spanish, a former UC Regent, an attorney, and adjunct faculty at UCLA Law School, where I teach education law and policy, and also Santa Monica College, where I teach public policy.

Neighborhood of Residence: Wilmont.

Community activities: School Board Member, 2008-Present; Los Angeles County Office of Education Committee on School Board Organization; Los Angeles County School Trustees Assocation Board of Directors; Santa Monica College General Advisory Board; Lifetime Member, Samohi Alumni Association; SMMUSD Financial Oversight Committee, 2006-2008; Santa Monica College Bond Oversight Committee, 2007-2008; Volunteer, Measures R and ES; Community Organizer, Los Angeles Unified School District, Measure K, Fall 2002.

Question One: Why are you running for the school board?

I want to continue working on a number of key areas – early childhood programming, teacher evaluations, finding new revenue opportunities, raising academic standards, improving environmental practices, etc.

Question Two: Is the school district spending its money wisely? If not, please describe the changes you would make.

One can always disagree with individual decisions that the District has made. That being said, we’ve cut back on administrators at the District office by 50 percent over the past six years. I think that the District has actually done a decent job of sustaining difficult cuts from the state while preserving our core programs.

Question Three: Is SMMUSD doing enough to prepare students for life after high school? Why or why not?

There is a lot more we need to be doing with financial and Internet literacy, tech, and career prep. As someone who went through our schools not too long ago, I know that a SMMUSD education provides our community’s students with a strong academic and arts foundation but also an appreciation and understanding for how to navigate an increasingly diverse world.

Question Four: What is the number one goal you would like to achieve on the school board if elected?

Steadying the District’s financial ship, while preserving our strong academic programming.

Full Name: Karen Farrer

Website: www.reformslate.com

Endorsements: Malibu Democratic Club, Malibu Mayor Lou La Monte, Malibu City Council members Laura Rosenthal, Joan House, John Sibert, numerous past and present Santa Monica and Malibu PTA Presidents and many others.

Current office/profession: Community Volunteer.

Previous Experience: Litigation paralegal: Munger, Tolles & Rickershauser, Los Angeles. 21 years as a public school volunteer: Past PTA President Webster Elementary School and Malibu High School, five years on the PTA executive board of Point Dume Marine Science School PTA, nine year executive board member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Council of PTA’s (current Co-2nd Vice President), Honorary Service Award recipient: Webster Elementary PTA, Point Dume Marine Science School PTA, Malibu High School PTSA, Santa Monica–Malibu Council of PTA’s.

Education: Bachelor of Arts, Sociology, UCLA 1980.

Date/place of birth: May 28, 1957 / Los Angeles.

Biography: Born and raised in Los Angeles. Malibu resident 1978 – present.

Spouse/Children: Married 29 years to Cameron Farrer. Three children, ages 26, 24, and 11, all of whom attend/ed Malibu public schools K-12.

Neighborhood of Residence: Point Dume.

Community activities: See above.

Question One: Why are you running for the school board?

In light of what I have come to see over the last 21 years, I can no longer remain silent. Malibu has not had representation on the school board since 2008. Our voice is not heard; our perspective is not sought. The current board has not included us in many critical decisions and is largely unfamiliar with our issues and our people.

Question Two: Is the school district spending its money wisely? If not, please describe the changes you would make.

In many ways no. Examination of our administrative costs reveals that SMMUSD is spending almost double what some Southern California districts with similar demographics are. Resources must be redirected and placed as close to the students as often and as effectively as possible. Student success must be made the absolute priority.

Question Three: Is SMMUSD doing enough to prepare students for life after high school? Why or why not?

There has been much talk, and several actions taken, supposedly regarding “closing the achievement gap.” The achievement gap is nowhere near closed. District statistics show a shocking level of complacency with regard to the lack of success of our minority and low-income students as well as many others.

Question Four: What is the number one goal you would like to achieve on the school board if elected?

To dramatically increase district revenue. Unification of the four Malibu schools into a separate, independent school district would be one way accomplish this. SMMUSD’s own internal financial analysis as well as an approved independent consultant’s preliminary study have each shown that the schools in BOTH cities would be better off financially apart than together. It is time for the Malibu schools and taxpayers to have self-determination. We cannot remain a colony of Santa Monica.

Full Name: Craig Foster

Website: www.reformslate.com

Endorsements: Kathy Wisnicki (ex-SMMUSD School Board President), Carrie Wagner (Financial Oversight Committee Chair), Joan Chu (ex-Financial Oversight Committee Vice Chair), FOC members Shelly Slaugh and David Vukadinovich, Ann Hoover, Kim Moran, and many more including too many current and past PTA presidents to name.

Current office/profession: Teacher.

Previous Experience: Financial Executive.

Education: Amherst College ‘80 - B.A. in economics with honors, University of Phoenix ‘12 - M.A.E in Elementary Education.

Date/place of birth: 1958 / Chicago, IL.

Biography: I became involved in education in 2007 after volunteering in my daughter’s kindergarten classroom. I loved helping children learn and grow. By the end of the year, I was spending almost two full days per week in the classroom. Later, I began a masters program in education, joined the PTA, and was accepted on the district’s Financial Oversight Committee.

Spouse/Children: Spouse Lili (preschool teacher), Daughter Amelia (Webster 4th grader).

Neighborhood of Residence: East Malibu.

Community activities: President Webster School PTA, President Webster School Site Governance Committee, Member of SMMUSD Financial Oversight Committee, Certified Teacher, Certified Trainer - The Gurian Institute for Brain Based Learning, and President - Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS).

Question One: Why are you running for the school board?

I am running to close the twin achievement gaps and to make SMMUSD a beacon for what a great public school district can achieve for its children.

Question Two: Is the school district spending its money wisely? If not, please describe the changes you would make.

The school board must put the district’s focus tightly on every child’s success. This means tasking the superintendent with creating and executing a short, medium, and long term plan to close the twin achievement gaps. The board should monitor that plan’s success against clear metrics while helping the superintendent’s mission as requested. Until such a plan is in place we will continue to be doomed to piecemeal failure.

Question Three: Is SMMUSD doing enough to prepare students for life after high school? Why or why not?

It is not. When only 6 percent of African-American high school males are proficient or better in math, we should be ashamed. When our test scores across the board barely beat state averages (or worse), we should be ashamed. These are children’s lives in the balance, failure is unconscionable.

Question Four: What is the number one goal you would like to achieve on the school board if elected?

Rebuilding the district so it nurtures our children and becomes a credit to them and our two great cities.

Full Name: Maria Leon-Vazquez

Email: Marialv4ourkids@yahoo.com

Endorsements: Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, Santa Monica/Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, SEIU Local 99 (classified staff of SMMUSD), HERE UNITE, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, Santa Monica Democratic Club, Los Angeles County Democratic Party, Community for Excellent Public Schools, AMAE-Westside (full list online).

Current office/profession: SMMUSD school board member, Santa Monica College administrator. Previous Experience: school board member, almost 12 years.

Education: J.D., University of California, Hastings College of Law; B.A., U.C. San Diego, A.A., Santa Monica College.

Date/place of birth: June 27, 1956 / Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.

Biography: I have been a resident of Santa Monica since 1959 and I have been working as a Program Manager at Santa Monica College since 2008. In November of 2000, I was elected to the Santa Monica/Malibu School Board, am presently serving my third term, and have served as past President and Vice President.

Spouse/Children: Tony Vazquez, former Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tempore; two children graduates of SMMUSD, Tony and Carolina.

Neighborhood of Residence: Sunset Park.

Community activities: I continue to be involved as a PTA vice president at Santa Monica High School. I started all over again as a parent participant at Will Rogers when my daughter began her schooling through the JAMS Pathway. I’m a member of Santa Monicans for Renter Rights and the Santa Monica Democratic Club getting involved in civic and electoral activities.

Question One: Why are you running for the school board?

What I hope to accomplish in the next four years: Continue to strive for academic excellence while simultaneously closing the achievement gap, create a culture of inclusion and trust among all our families, guarantee that BB projects are completed, open more streams of revenue through district-wide fundraising, and modernize our school facilities.

Question Two: Is the school district spending its money wisely? If not, please describe the changes you would make.

SMMUSD has done its best to conservatively manage its budget so that we have sufficient reserves to sustain the unpredictable State budget cuts in the midst of a fiscal year. We have made reductions within our internal central and administrative staff while preserving much-needed classroom and school services. Of course, I will do more once the stream of revenue from District wide fundraising gets off the ground.

Question Three: Is SMMUSD doing enough to prepare students for life after high school? Why or why not?

The district is doing a great job in academically preparing our students to apply for college. With the economy tightening and fewer education resources, the time of career exploration in college is over. We need to need to shift students’ thinking to career exploration starting in elementary so that by the time they are in high school better college choices can be made and/or they are ready to enter the workforce.

Question Four: What is the number one goal you would like to achieve on the school board if elected?

Champion our District Mission: Extraordinary achievement for all while simultaneously closing the achievement gap via our District Vision of working together in a nurturing environment helping students be visionary, versatile thinkers; resourceful, life-long learners; effective, multilingual communicators and global citizens. To value the contributions of all our District/Community members who support all students in their pursuit of academic achievement, strength of character, and personal growth.

Full Name: José Escarce

Email: escarce@earthlink.net

Endorsements: Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS), SEIU Local 99 (SMMUSD classified employees), Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, Santa Monica Democratic Club, Los Angeles County Democratic Party, and Unite Here.

Current office/profession: SMMUSD School Board Member/Professor of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine.

Education: BA, Princeton, 1975; MA, Harvard, 1976; M.D., University of Pennsylvania, 1981; Internal medicine residency, Stanford, 1981-1984; PhD (health economics), University of Pennsylvania, 1995.

Date/place of birth: April 30, 1953 / Havana, Cuba.

Biography: I immigrated to the United States at age seven and grew up in Miami until college. I married in 1982, while completing my medical training at Stanford, and my wife and I moved to Philadelphia, where we had our three loving children, four years later. We have spent the last, marvelous 14 years in Santa Monica, where we have become involved in our community and made many wonderful friends.

Spouse/Children: Married 30 years to Eileen, a child psychologist. Three children: oldest was Samohi class of 2006, middle was Samohi class of 2010, youngest is currently a junior at Samohi.

Neighborhood of Residence: North of Montana.

Community activities: School board member. Formerly member of Community for Excellent Public Schools. Active in campaigns for school funding measures and bonds and in negotiations with the City of Santa Monica regarding joint use agreements with the district.

Question One: Why are you running for the school board?

To provide the vision, experience and continuity in Board leadership that our district needs at this crucial moment for public education in California. During my time on the Board, I have promoted academic excellence and equality of opportunity for all students. However, there is more work to do to create a district that enables all students to achieve their potential.

Question Two: Is the school district spending its money wisely? If not, please describe the changes you would make.

Absolutely. Our students have diverse needs and our community diverse aspirations for its schools. Faced with the largest school funding reductions in California history, our board has placed students’ needs first and kept budget cuts as far from the classroom as possible, protecting class size, counselors, nurses, librarians, intervention and honors programs, and our cherished music and arts programs.

Question Three: Is SMMUSD doing enough to prepare students for life after high school? Why or why not?

The district’s aim has been to prepare all students for post secondary education while simultaneously acknowledging that some students bypass college and directly enter the job market. We have always offered a variety of career-technical educational opportunities. However, we are currently launching a new school-to-career initiative that will strengthen these options through new course offerings and internship opportunities.

Question Four: What is the number one goal you would like to achieve on the school board if elected?

I am proud to say that my time on the board has been one of consistent improvement in our district. If re-elected, my number one goal will be to redouble our efforts to close the achievement gap. Specifically, I will focus on enhancing our capacity to engage all students, ensuring our curricula are relevant and rigorous, creating responsive learning environments, and strengthening our intervention programs.

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