Malibu left without school board rep

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A Malibu education activist says the importance of forming a Malibu school district has increased.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

With Malibu resident Kathy Wisnicki’s decision not to run for re-election for a seat on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education, and with no other local choosing to enter the race, Malibu will be without a district representative when the next term begins in December. Malibu has had at least one person on the board since 1980.

That Malibu will not have a representative on the board comes at a time when the two cities in the school district are divided on several issues, and there is a feeling by many in Malibu that the Santa Monica board members are not concerned about the smaller city.

Wisnicki said this week she decided not to run for several personal reasons and because she believes she could not win the race.

“I think that there are definitely groups in Santa Monica that feel there are certain things lacking on the school board and they want to make changes,” Wisnicki said. “I was the most vulnerable of the school board candidates. I was the least likely to be able to succeed.”

Fellow Malibu resident Laura Rosenthal said a group of local education activists had been meeting for several months to discuss various issues, including finding somebody from Malibu willing to run for the board.

“No one was interested or they felt it was not possible to win,” Rosenthal said. “Certain people are running in Santa Monica for the express purpose of preventing a Malibu resident from winning a seat.”

She declined to specify names.

Separate district “crucial’

Rosenthal, who is leading an effort to form a Malibu school district, said with the city soon no longer having a representative on the board, her endeavor is even more crucial.

“Even though they [the school board] say they represent the entire district, it has been quite clear over the last number of years that it is not true,” Rosenthal said. “They live in Santa Monica. Their children go to school in Santa Monica. They have nothing invested in Malibu.”

The first step in the process toward forming a new school district, what is known as district reorganization, is to gather signatures on a petition from 25 percent of Malibu voters and from voters in nearby unincorporated areas asking for the county to conduct a feasibility study. The entire process would take about three to four years. When Rosenthal began collecting signatures last fall, she said she would have enough by April. She is currently about halfway there.

“We will have a big drive and push in the next couple months, perhaps walking neighborhood and other things like that,” Rosenthal said.

When asked why it is taking longer than expected, she said, “The people that are on this are the same people who are doing everything else. In some ways, it has been difficult to get to a lot of the voters.”

Wisnicki said she plans to help with the signature collection, although she specified she is only in support of a feasibility study being done, and not necessarily in support of the formation of a separate district.

“I feel as a community we need to know whether we can move forward with the process or if we have to abandon the idea and work with the school district we have,” Wisnicki said.

In the meantime, Wisnicki said, “Malibu residents must continue to be active in the district.

“We should continue being visible and vocal at the district committees, through PTAs and a lot of different avenues regardless of whether we feel there is a division [of the two cities],” Wisnicki said. “We’re still one school district and it’s up to all of us to work with the school district to ensure students’ needs are being met.”

Jose Escarce, a Santa Monica resident on the board who is running for reelection this year, said board members will have to make a stronger effort to reach out to Malibu after Wisnicki’s term expires.

“In the past, people have made an effort,” he said. “I think now the burden will be to do that a lot more. Maybe I can get some help from Kathy and other people to do that.”

Escarce called a board without a Malibu member “something to be concerned about.”

Hard feelings

The largest, recent conflict between Malibu and Santa Monica came last fall when an advisory committee for the use of Measure BB construction funds voted to reduce the amount given to Malibu High School from what was originally proposed.

The board accepted this recommendation, creating an uproar in Malibu and inspiring Rosenthal to begin the district reorganization process. The board reversed its decision in February, but the wounds of the conflict have not healed.

Another issue has involved special education. While many in Santa Monica said the district’s program needed a major overhaul, a large segment within Malibu has expressed satisfaction with it. In April, the person in charge of the program, Tim Walker, was forced out of the district. This was applauded in Santa Monica and blasted in Malibu.

School board candidates

– Jose Escarce, incumbent

– Maria Leon Vazquez, incumbent

– Ben Allen

– Chris Bley

– Ralph Mechur

Election Day is Nov. 4.