Craig Foster Wins Seat on School Board, Looks to Future

Craig Foster and a large group of supporters rally for his bid to school board on Webb Way and PCH in 2014. 

In an election cycle marked with controversy, anger and name-calling, one race in Malibu seemed to stand above the political muck: the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education race, for which Malibu had only one candidate, Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS) President Craig Foster, running against six Santa Monicans.

Needing to win at least fourth place to get a seat on the board, Foster took second, behind incumbent Laurie Lieberman and ahead of fellow winners newcomer Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein and incumbent Oscar de la Torre.

Since his victory, Foster has stated that he will remain president of AMPS, a nonprofit focused on separating Santa Monica and Malibu into two school boards, in a process known as “unification.”

“I’m going to stay on as president,” Foster said, adding, “I think being involved in both is supportive of both, that based on all the research that we’ve done, independent school boards are better for all the kids in the district.”

Voting results trickled in on Election Night, into the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Foster started off in second and dipped down to fifth, which would have dropped him off the board, around 1 a.m., before a late surge of Malibu votes were announced that rocketed him back up.

The final count had Foster at 16.66 percent, earning 9,087 votes, to Lieberman’s 11,336. Sixteen votes behind Foster was Tahvildaran-Jesswein, at 16.61 percent, then de la Torre with 16.12 percent. The election knocked one incumbent, Ralph Mechur, off the board.

In September, Tahvildaran-Jesswein, a Santa Monica-based candidate, spoke in support of his words, the “concept” of separation. A longtime professor at Santa Monica College and co-chair of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, he stated that he understands how important the issue is among Malibu residents.

“If it’s truly the will of the Malibu citizens, then I’m on board too, with the caveat that we’ve made sure we’ve crossed all the ‘t’s,’ dotted all the ‘i’s’ and that there’s no harm to the school children in either Santa Monica or Malibu,” Tahvildaran-Jesswein said at the time.

Since his victory, Foster has spoken out with faith that the board, which in the past has been seen as adversarial to many in Malibu, could come together in this cause. 

“I think that anybody who runs for school board wants to see the kids of the district receive the best education that we can imagine, and I think Richard [Tahvildaran-Jesswin] and I can imagine things that maybe haven’t been imagined before,” Foster said.

Current board member Ben Allen indicated that perhaps Foster and other AMPS members haven’t given the board due credit.

“I always think that there’s been more sympathy for splitting the district than people assumed, not only within the broader community, but within the school board,” Allen said. He added that Foster could be the boost the board needs. 

“I think Craig’s victory, I’m sure, will push the question further up on the agenda of the board.”

On Tuesday, Allen defeated Sandra Fluke for a State Senate seat, leaving a vacancy on the board, which will be filled by appointment of the school board. Although there has been some speculation as to who may be chosen to fill the seat, no clear replacement has emerged.