A second Malibu resident fails in her bid for a seat on the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees.
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.
Wisnicki replaces SMMUSD Board member Mike Jordan as Malibu’s lone representative on the board. He chose not to seek a second term, citing health and family issues. During the campaign, Wisnicki received endorsements from several major organizations, including Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers’ Association, Committee for Excellent Public Schools and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. 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.
“The community really valued my experience and I had many relationships throughout both communities because I worked on educational issues for so many years,” Wisnicki said. “I think that I have the respect of the education leaders of both communities. It [my election] was a complete team effort in both cities.”
Wisnicki said had she not been elected, it would have been harmful for the city of Malibu. She said many Malibu parents would feel disenfranchised. 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. The organization received a setback earlier this fall when the county disqualified several hundred signatures because it did not approve the wording of the petition. But MUST has said it is determined to start over and continue with its mission. 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 Monicans and Malibuites.
Wisnicki said some of the major issues going on in the district that she will have to address immediately include implementing the special education plan that was approved by the board this past summer. The implementation of some of the 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.
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.
The SMC election comes at a controversial time for the college. Last year, the board cut eight vocational programs to address a large budget gap. The SMC faculty union said the cuts did not need to occur and made a vote of no confidence for college President Piedad Robertson and the trustees. Only one of the three trustees up for re-election, Margaret Quiñones, chose to run. She placed third with 13,488 votes despite Santa Monica’s education team, an organization made up of Santa Monica College and Santa Monica-Malibu unified teachers, supporting two of her challengers. SMRR also did not endorse Quiñones. Susan Aminoff (19,387 votes) and Robert Grader (14,895 votes) were also elected to the board.