No Malibuites Among Eight School Board Candidates

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Eight school board candidates will appear on ballots in Santa Monica, Malibu and parts of unincorporated Malibu within the 90265 zip code, looking to fill three seats up for grabs in the Nov. 3 Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education election. All eight of this year’s school board candidates live in Santa Monica. 

Two incumbents, Jon Kean and Maria Leon-Vazquez, are seeking to retain their positions on the board; the third incumbent, Ralph Mechur, did not submit papers to run for another term on the board of education. Kean has sat on the school board in Santa Monica since he was appointed in 2016; that year, only three candidates—Leon-Vazquez, Mechur and Kean—qualified for the race, rendering an election unnecessary and resulting in its cancelation. Leon-Vazquez has been on the board of education in Santa Monica for 20 years, since she was first elected in 2000.

According to initial reports from the Santa Monica Daily Press, at least 13 hopefuls pulled papers for the race, although only eight made it to the final ballot. 

Representatives for the City of Santa Monica, which administers the school board election, did not immediately reply to questions, including information about how the candidate list shrunk from 13 to eight. This story will be updated at when more information becomes available.

Malibu’s sole representative on the board since 2014, Craig Foster, remains in his seat and is not up for re-election in 2020. Also not up for re-election is fellow SMMUSD Board of Education member Oscar de la Torre, who is running for Santa Monica City Council. Should de la Torre win, the school board will likely appoint someone to fill his seat, as they did when former board member Ben Allen was elected to the California State Senate in 2014.

Each candidate submitted statements along with their nomination papers. Below are excerpts from each candidate statement.

Keith Coleman – Educator/Parent/Economist

“I’ve led efforts increasing student success, developing growth sector career training initiatives, ed tech platform investment and driving education leaders’ responsiveness to well-being needs of students and community.

I’m running to democratize opportunity for all students and support progressive values of residents in the vital, diverse communities of SMMUSD. Let us embrace our robust characteristics and inherent value, inspiring hope for a better future.” 

Jason K. Feldman – Civil Rights Attorney

“Jason’s pledge to voters: Transparency in all board actions; improvement of the curriculum concerning race and social justice; attention to special education and reducing lawsuits; stopping the practice of making teachers the first victims of budget cuts; and closing the achievement gap by lifting all students. Jason K. Feldman wants to put All Families First.”

Esther Hickman – Parent

“Nothing is more important than the physical, emotional and mental safety of our community. Through my leadership, we would act efficiently to re-imagine budgets, fortify online education and invest in long term useful technology without ignoring the socio-emotional effects of these unprecedented times on our students and teachers … Eventually students and teachers will return safely to the classroom. It’s time to focus on the best educational outcomes and move beyond what isn’t working in our district.”

Steven Johnson – Marketing Technology Consultant

“While the pandemic has been our greatest challenge, we must not forget the institutional crises that were in full flare before Coronavirus hit; issues that will still be with us when the pandemic recedes.”

Jon Kean – School Board President

“In my first term, I have worked closely with our Santa Monica and Malibu communities and succeeded to:

Expand access to early education programs

Approve a K-12 social justice framework

Develop American Cultures/Ethnic Studies classes

Pass Measure SMS to modernize our aging facilities

Improve our credit rating and refinance older bonds to save taxpayers millions

Reduce teacher cuts and preserve valuable school programs. 

Maria Leon-Vazquez – Boardmember/College Administrator

“I am committed to full transparency and accountability as SMMUSD continues to balance its budget, oversee its bond projects, and give SMMUSD families a voice. My leadership is the driver to continue SMMUSD’s strategic shift to a 21st century education guaranteeing that all our graduates are college and career ready, culturally and socially conscious, multi-lingual communicators, global citizens, and life-long learners.”

Dhun May -Teacher

“I have taught for over 40 years and hold a master’s degree in mathematics. I am a longtime Santa Monica resident and a former Malibu resident seeking to promote mostly inexpensive practices which will help students be healthier and more successful … I hope to ‘give-back’ by service to our school district and would be grateful for your vote. You can count on me for courage and common sense.”

Jennifer Smith – Parent/Community Volunteer

“As an SMMUSD Board Member I will bring new perspectives, financial transparency and accountability. I will be an involved, accessible leader, committed to finding solutions. I will work tirelessly to propel progress in access and equity and create an engaging and effective educational environment.”


More information on the eight candidates is available at

The County of Los Angeles had yet to release the locations and hours of vote centers for the upcoming election by the time The Malibu Times went to print on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

Sample ballots for LA County voters are now available online by visiting 

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Ben Allen was elected to the California State Assembly in 2014. The story has been updated to reflect Allen was elected to the California State Senate that year.