The Malibu Times sent a questionnaire to eight candidates running for four seats on the Board of Education for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. They were given the same time frame to respond and were limited to 150 words per answer. The first profile was printed last week, and a new one will appear in the newspaper each week through Oct. 21
To access last week’s profile online, go to www.malibutimes.com. Click “Archives” on the top right. Type “Meet the Board of Education candidates” in the search box.
Name: Ralph Mechur
Birth date: October 16, 1949
What is your education and employment history?
I have a Master of Architecture from UCLA and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania.
I have been a practicing architect for the past 30 years. Since 1992 I have run Ralph Mechur Architects, a small design-oriented business based in Santa Monica. We have provided architectural services to nonprofit groups offering services and housing for the economically disadvantaged and the disabled, after school programs for at-risk youth and low-cost, visitor-serving accommodations. We also design custom single-family projects.
As a consultant and lecturer, I have taught architecture and environmental design in grades one through college. I also was a staff architect for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympics.
How did you become involved in school issues? What has your involvement included?
Education was a core value of my immigrant parents. The gift of education should be provided equitably to all children.
While at UCLA, I helped run two environmental education programs where architects worked weekly in classrooms in several LA area districts.
In the mid-1980s I joined the Board of the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation and helped it establish two endowments and become a key provider of literacy and art support for the District.
In the late 1990s I helped found the Community for Excellent Public Schools, leading to agreements with Santa Monica and Malibu to provide significant ongoing funding for our public schools.
In 1998 I cochaired the Proposition X bond campaign with Laure Stern and in 2003 the Measure S Parcel Tax campaign with Kathy Wisnicki, Laura Rosenthal and Cheri Orgel.
I have served on the Board of Education since being appointed in August 2007.
There is a feeling by many in Malibu that this city is an afterthought for school district officials. Why does this sentiment exist? What can be done to change this feeling?
Naturally, Malibu residents want to feel that the district is listening to their concerns. The reality is that district offices are in Santa Monica and most meetings are held in Santa Monica, so it is easy to feel not listened to.
Communication about issues is the real problem. There is a lot of misinformation in both cities being passed around that only heightens concerns. We need to bring issues to the table in a timely fashion so we have the ability to share information and make informed decisions.
As a board member, I serve for all 11,607 of our students. I am accessible and will go out of my way to meet with parents, residents and city officials to discuss issues.
How have you tried to interface with Malibu residents, including education and city leaders? What have you accomplished?
I’ve been meeting with Malibu residents, education and city leaders for many years. As noted, I cochaired bond and parcel tax campaigns with Malibu leaders. I’ve advocated for fairness in the language of the measures and in fund distribution. These measures have helped modernize Malibu schools and maintain critical programs and teachers. Measure BB will significantly enhance Malibu High School for the students and the community.
As a former trustee of the Education Foundation, I met with parents and community supporters to establish the For the Arts Endowment, leading to the 1st dance classes at all of our secondary schools in over 20 years, as well as support for drama at MHS.
As Board President in 2008-09, I worked with Mayor Stern to set up regular meetings between the City Manager and the Superintendent.
Other than Board meetings, how many times have you been in Malibu in the past year? With whom have you met? What have you learned?
I’ve been in Malibu to meet with parents, residents and elected officials quite a few times in the last year or so. I’ve met with Andy Stern, Laura Rosenthal, Sharon Barovsky, Steve Sheinkman and other Malibu Park residents, Kathy Wisnicki, Michael and Wendy Sidley, and Webster and Pt. Dume parents. I’ve attended BB meetings to discuss the Malibu High School improvements and District Budget presentations to the community.
What I’ve learned is that Malibu parents and residents are concerned about the quality of education their children will receive and the quality of life they will have. They are concerned about class size and breadth of program, as well as maintaining the unique environmental qualities of Malibu.
Most of all, they are concerned about having information and being part of the decision-making process.
What is your opinion on the demand by some Malibu parents for the formation of a Malibu school district?
I understand the frustration that some parents have about being tied to a larger district. Most of the meetings are in Santa Monica, and few teachers, administrators or board members live in Malibu.
The real issue, however, is what is best for all the students of our district. If Malibu were a separate district, could each district provide the same breadth and depth of programs for its students as it does now and have the ability to operate and maintain the school facilities?
Ultimately, whether or not Malibu can be its own district is primarily a financial question. The County Office of Education will not allow a District to be created that cannot show on-going sustainable funding.
We need to have an in-depth discussion of what the options and consequences are of going through the separation process.
What is your opinion on the effort to make Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School a charter school?
Pt. Dume parents are concerned that with the State financial crisis substantially reducing funding for education, and the small size of the school, that further revenue reductions may lead the District to closing one or more schools. Consequently, the parents are looking at the option to convert Pt. Dume into a charter school. I’ve met with the lead parents who are preparing a proposal to submit to the District in the near future. They understand the seriousness of the proposal and how it may impact Malibu.
The Education Code outlines a series of metrics for review of a charter application. As a board member, this will be my guide to form an opinion.
Is the school district doing all it can to solve budget issues? Are there concepts that have not been tried?
The district has been very careful in its recent budget deliberations. Staff looked at revenue projections and expenditures and presented options to the Board and the community in a series of workshops.
The state-induced financial crisis in public education has caused the Board to cut $4 million and $7.1 million the last two years. We have kept the cuts as far from the classroom as possible. Unfortunately, without new revenues more drastic cuts will have to be made next year.
Passing the Santa Monica Use Tax will significantly reduce that likelihood.
A commitment to on-going community-wide fund raising for district-wide needs, like the recent Education Foundation-led Save Our Schools campaign, is also important.
Those who claim we are wasting money just don’t know the facts. They are making them up or comparing apples and oranges.
We can come together and provide the educational opportunities we want for our children
What is your experience dealing with budgets? How about legislation?
I have owned and managed architectural firms ranging in size from 5 to 15 employees for the last 25 years. Running a small design business requires managing personnel and budgets to produce unique products that meet regulatory, financial and programmatic requirements. We also typically monitor the progress of the construction and approve all payments.
I served on the Architectural Review Board and Planning Commission of the City of Santa Monica in the 1980s and 1990s, working with staff and the community on the Third Street Promenade Specific Plan, the Civic Center Specific Plan and the Ocean Park Design Guidelines.
As a member of the Board of Education for the past three years, I have worked closely with staff and the rest of the Board, in extremely difficult economic times, to develop and approve budgets that maintain the core of our educational programs and our teaching staff.
How many people are in your immediate family? Regardless of whether they live at home? Feel free to mention their names and ages?
I have three grown children. The youngest is 28. All went to Santa Monica-Malibu schools. They all live in California, from San Diego to Monterey, are employed, and are outdoor enthusiasts.
My partner, Linda, also has three children, two working college graduates on the east coast, and the third in college in Southern California. All three, also, are SMMUSD graduates.
Both our moms are fortunately still with us. One is 78 and living in Valencia. The other is 87 and living in Sarasota, Florida.
What are your interests and hobbies not involving school issues?
It’s hard for me to be involved in education and not have it be my central focus. Making our district the best has been my passion for a long time. I believe we can equitably educate all of our students and am always working towards that goal.
Architecture fascinates me as well. I marvel at how technology is allowing for designs that a short time ago could not have been imagined or built to become reality. It is a profession that is constantly changing and, for me, serves as a metaphor for how education could approach the future …if it had the resources.
I am an avid reader and always have a book or magazine close by.
I play soccer and go surfing almost every week, more if I’m lucky. Both are completely interactive activities, one with others and one with nature.
And, occasionally, I get to watch a movie.