Teachers unions endorse Malibuite in school board race


Kathy Wisnicki, the only Malibu resident running in this year’s SMMUSD Board of Education race received an endorsement from the SMMUSD and Santa Monica College teachers’ unions. The influential organization, Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, will make its endorsements on Aug. 1.

By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu education activist Kathy Wisnicki and incumbents Jose Escarce and Maria Leon-Vazquez beat out three other Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education candidates to win endorsements from the Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association and the Santa Monica College Faculty Association for this November’s election, in which three seats are up for grabs. Mike Jordan, currently the only Malibu resident on the board, is not seeking a second term, making Wisnicki’s candidacy Malibu’s only hope for representation on the board.

Jenny Lipson of the SMMCTA board said the team of three SMMCTA teachers and three college faculty members interviewed all six candidates and chose to endorse the incumbents because “we’ve had good working relationships with them.” She said they awarded Wisnicki the third endorsement because of her “incredible wealth of experience and knowledge.”

SMMCTA member Evie Aheroni added that it is “essential” that Malibu be represented on the board.

The school board candidates not receiving endorsements included retired SMMUSD teacher Jim Jaffe, who has long been active with the school budget process Jaffe often publicly challenges Superintendent John Deasy and the board on financial and other matters involving the district. The other candidates in this year’s race are Ana Jara, an equal-rights activist who works for Santa Monica College’s International Education Center and Santa Monica Airport Commissioner Jean Gebman.

The teachers’ endorsement of Wisnicki comes at an eventful time, as a group of Malibu parents calling themselves the Malibu Unified School Team, or MUST, announced just a few days earlier that they were investigating whether Malibu could split from Santa Monica and become its own school district.

“I’m not involved in the committee [MUST] because I have chosen to pursue running for the school board,” Wisnicki said. “That is how I can best serve the district right now.” She added that she has not yet taken a stance about whether Malibu should try to form its own district because she did not have enough information, but said, “I’m always an advocate for the process.”

Incumbent Leon-Vazquez, who, like Wisnicki, said she was undecided about the Malibu school district issue, expressed happiness at receiving the SMMCTA/college faculty endorsement. “It’s gratifying to get the endorsement from the teachers, because four years ago I did not get an endorsement,” she said, noting, “I’ve always made the effort to make the contact with [SMMCTA President] Harry [Keiley] to get some feedback and their perspective as teachers.”

Escarce, the other incumbent, also received an endorsement for his consideration of teachers’ opinions, but may face opposition in Malibu because of his outspoken support for Deasy, who clashed with Malibu parents during debate over a proposed policy to place a percentage of money donated to district schools into a fund that would redistribute money to other schools on an unbalanced scale.

The teachers unions endorsements should have significant on voters’ decisions in November. But next month, probably the most influential organization in Santa Monica, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, or SMRR, makes its endorsements on Aug. 1. In Santa Monica, a city heavily populated by renters, SMRR endorsements are loyally followed by a number of voters. A SMRR endorsement of a Malibu resident is not unheard of. Jordan received on in 2000.

On Monday, the teachers unions also made endorsements for the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees election, for which there are also three seats being contested. The unions endorsed two challengers, saying Margaret Quinones, the only incumbent running for re-election, had taken part in botched financial decisions during last year’s fiscal crises when the board unnecessarily cut programs in a “knee-jerk” reaction to glum state budget projections.

Last year, the Board of Trustees 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 board.

Kelly Hayes-Raitt, a political consultant for the SMMCTA and college Faculty Association, said Santa Monicans Susan Aminoff and Doug Willis received endorsements because they have vowed to fight to reinstate those programs.

Aminoff is a sociology professor at Pierce College, a two-year community college in Woodland Hills, and last year won an award for her skill negotiating benefits. Willis works in the finance department at UCLA. He has sat on the Santa Monica Rent Control Board since 1996.

Rob Rader of the Bayside District Corporation Board, the group that oversees business on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade; and Charlie Donaldson, a retired Santa Monica College professor are also running in the race. So far no Malibu residents have entered the race, but candidates have until Aug. 9 to submit the 100 voter signatures.