Longtime activist selected as new SMMUSD board member

Ralph Mechur

Ralph Mechur has served on various school district and city of Santa Monica committees and commissions. His term lasts until 2008, and he says he plans to run in next year’s election to keep his seat on the board.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education is expected at its meeting on Thursday to appoint Ralph Mechur to fill the board seat vacated in June by Emily Bloomfield. Mechur, 57, has been the president of the district’s fundraising body, the Education Foundation, for the past 18 years.

Although the Santa Monica resident has been active with the district and the city for approximately 25 years, he has never sought an elected position.

“There was an opening, and it seemed like I was ready for this,” Mechur said. “The timing was right.”

Mechur was interviewed by the board at a meeting last month as one of two candidates, the other being Nicole Piccard, to replace Bloomfield, who has moved to the East Coast. Each board member ranked the candidates using a points system, and the scores were combined to select a winner.

Mechur’s term will last until the next General Election, which is in November 2008, even though Bloomfield’s term would not have expired until 2010. Mechur could run for the seat in 2008, which he said he plans to do, but he will not be considered an incumbent.

In addition to Mechur’s nearly two decades heading the Education Foundation, he has also been a member of several other district and Santa Monica city committees and commissions, including the SMMUSD’s Facilities Master Plan and Measure BB Advisory committees, and the city of Santa Monica’s Planning Commission and Architectural Review Board.

Mechur received words of praise from district officials in the notice released by the district.

“Bringing Mr. Mechur on board will be a smooth transition due to his level of involvement, expertise and demonstrated past commitment to the district,” said board President Kathy Wisnicki.

Superintendent Dianne Talarico said, “Mr. Mechur is certain to be a valuable asset to the SMMUSD Board of Education. He brings a wealth of knowledge to the board based on his participation on numerous district committees and advisory boards during the past several years.”

Mechur comes to the district in a time of controversy and in the beginning stages of a healing process with the Santa Monica City Council. With the enrollment declining, the district’s revenue from the state being based on daily attendance, the SMMUSD is facing a projected deficit by the 2009-10 school year of at least $7 million. And the Santa Monica City Council, which has an agreement to give the district at least $6.5 million annually, was reluctant to raise that total because some council members were troubled by district actions. This included the SMMUSD’s placement of confidentiality clauses in agreements with parents of special education students and the requirement of a former chief financial officer to sign a statement that he would not publicly speak about the district’s financial status.

With the threat of not receiving $530,000 from the city, the district last month agreed to place a moratorium on the inclusion of confidentiality clauses in special education agreements, while the special education program is studied by an outside party. Also, district and city officials are reconvening a joint-committee that last met in 2004 to sort through various issues.

“I think the district has reached a reasonable agreement with the city,” Mechur said. “It is going to do the study on special education services. And then we’ll make whatever changes are in the best interest of our students.”

Mechur, a Santa Monica resident for more than 30 years, heads the firm, Ralph Mechur Architects. He has a daughter who graduated from the district in 1999. In his spare time, he enjoys surfing in Malibu, playing soccer and reading.