Malibu local elected to school board

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A second Malibu resident fails in her bid for a seat on the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees; however, a Pepperdine University professor is elected.

By Jonathan Friedman/Assistant Editor

Education activist Kathy Wisnicki’s victory in Tuesday’s election assured a nearly quarter-century trend of at least one Malibu resident on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will continue. Wisnicki placed third in the election with 20,396 votes, behind incumbents Jose Escarce (21,731) and Maria Leon Vazquez (21,327), and ahead of Ana Maria Jara.

Meanwhile, Malibu will continue to be without a representative on the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees with the defeat of its lone candidate, Tonja McCoy. She placed a distant sixth out of the seven candidates running for the three open seats. A Malibu resident has not been on the board for more than a decade. However, Pepperdine Professor Robert Rader was elected to the board.

Wisnicki replaces SMMUSD Board member Mike Jordan as Malibu’s lone representative on the school board. He chose not to seek a second term, citing health and family issues. During the campaign, Wisnicki received endorsements from several major organizations, but she was unable to get the support of the powerful political group, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights. The organization has tremendous political influence in Santa Monica, which has more than five times as many voters as Malibu. Wisnicki said not getting SMRR’s support made her campaign extra challenging.

“It was absolutely tougher,” Wisnicki said. “I had to gather support from Santa Monica. During the campaign I received tremendous support from volunteers from Santa Monica, without which I would not have won. I feel very satisfied with the outcome. It was really a big accomplishment because I live in Malibu.”

Wisnicki raised about $35,000 during the campaign. She said that, combined with the large number of volunteers from Santa Monica and Malibu who worked for her campaign, allowed her to get her message out to the people. She said it also helped that she was a familiar face to those involved in education issues.

Wisnicki’s election was also helped by a number of Malibu residents voting exclusively for her, despite having the option to vote for three candidates. This gave Wisnicki nearly a 2,000-vote advantage to her nearest competitor in the Malibu tally. She received 2,122 votes more than Jara in Malibu, making up for the 523-vote advantage Jara had over Wisnicki in Santa Monica.

Wisnicki’s election comes at a time when a group of Malibu parents called Malibu Unified School Team, or MUST, is working to create a Malibu Unified School District. MUST needs to collect signatures of support from 25 percent of the Malibu voters to trigger the process toward secession, which includes approval from the state and passage in an election. Wisnicki said she would support secession if MUST were able to gather the signatures and it were determined a Malibu school district would be beneficial for the education quality of Santa Monica and Malibu school children.

Wisnicki said some of the major issues in the district that she will address immediately include implementing the special education plan that was approved by the board in the summer. The implementation of some points has begun already.

“We need to make sure there is excellent education for all the children,” Wisnicki said.

Wisnicki said there is also the problem of overcrowding in the classrooms. Additionally, she said she wants to be a face people can identify with the school district so that she can be a source of communication between the school board, the Malibu community and the schools.

Loss not a shock

McCoy’s loss should not come as a shock to most people. She had limited support during the campaign, being a virtual unknown who had only recently moved to the area. The SMC board has been without a Malibu resident for more than 10 years.

Rader, who was a finalist for a board appointment last year, was elected to the board with 14,895 votes. On being elected, Rader said, “It’s a relief…after you’ve invested that much time in it [the campaign].”

Rader credits his endorsements for his successful election. “Those are critical endorsements. If I hadn’t gotten SMRR’s endorsement, I wouldn’t have run.”

Margaret Quiñones, only one of three up for re-election who chose to run, was not backed by SMRR, but was elected to the board with 13,488 votes.

As far as interfacing with Malibu, Rader said, “So far it’s been very good to deal with the city of Malibu. I am only hopeful that we can move forward quickly.

Susan Aminoff was also elected to the board with 19,387 votes.