Malibu still without local representation on school board


Newly elected board members say they will pay attention to Malibu’s concerns.

By Michael Aushenker and Jonathan Friedman / The Malibu Times

With the defeat of Patrick Cady in last week’s Board of Education election, Malibu will be without a resident on the board for at least another two years. No one from this city has served on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s top panel since Kathy Wisnicki’s term expired in 2008 and she declined to run for re-election. Also losing last week was current Board President Barry Snell, who is considered by many in Malibu to be the board member most supportive of this city’s issues. While some Malibu education leaders are concerned about this, the elected and re-elected leaders promised they will pay attention to Malibu.

“Malibu is appreciated,” said Laurie Lieberman, who was elected last week to her first term. “People need to know that and expect that from the board. They certainly can accept that from me.”

Lieberman has clashed with Malibu education activists in the past over capital improvement project funding, an issue she said in an August interview with The Malibu Times was due to “an unfortunate misunderstanding.” Lieberman said this week that during the campaign she met many Malibu residents, and looks forward to working with them to address Malibu and district-wide issues.

“We need to get beyond this sort of putting up this barrier and acting like there’s something there that has to keep us separated,” Lieberman said. “Because I don’t think that has to be the case.”

City Councilmember Laura Rosenthal, the highest profile education activist in this city, has butted heads with Lieberman in the past. When asked this week about Lieberman, Rosenthal had olive branch-like words: “While I didn’t support her in the election, I feel we’ll be able to work together and I’ve also heard from her to that effect.”

Rosenthal recently had some public conflicts with re-elected incumbent Oscar de la Torre, whom, she said in a posting on The Times’ Web site, said was “not a friend to Malibu.” De la Torre disagreed with her characterization of his relationship with this city, but he said this week that he wants to meet with Rosenthal, “as I have done with other elected leaders and parents to keep the dialogue open and sustained.”

When asked about this, Rosenthal said, “On any board and council, there are people who take on different tasks and I think there are a number of people on the school board that I have and will work with. I’m certainly always willing to talk and work with anyone.”

Rosenthal and Wisnicki said they were pleased with the re-election of Mechur, who they said takes an interest in Malibu. They said they also were looking forward to newly elected Nimish Patel, who campaigned frequently in this city, and was endorsed by Rosenthal and Wisnicki, as well as several other major Malibu education leaders.

Patel said this week he wants “to continue with what Barry [Snell] has done for Malibu.”

“He has been an excellent school board member reaching out to Malibu,” Patel said. “He inspired me to continue on that journey.”

Malibu education activists appreciate Snell because of his frequent visits to this city and attention to Malibu issues. He was the only SMMUSD board member to travel to a Coastal Commission meeting in Oceanside last year in support of Malibu High School’s attempt to get approval for field lights.

“I really think that one of the things that I did show was you can be a school board member for the entire district if you really focus on the issues of the two communities,” Snell said this week. “I tried to do that. I really hope that continues with others on the board.”

Cady, the lone Malibu resident in the race, said he does not believe any board member is ignoring Malibu. However, he said even a Santa Monica resident board member who is extra attentive to Malibu is no substitute for an actual Malibu resident on the dais.

“It’s not the same as having somebody who lives here on the board that you can bump into at Ralphs and see around town,” Cady said.

The concept of a non-voting Malibu resident either sitting on the board or being able to act as a spokesperson for the city in some capacity has been proposed in the past. Wisnicki said something like those concepts would be good.

“We have to come up with some sort of solution like that,” she said. “It’s time to put our heads together and develop more of a strategy to have our needs heard. It’s up to those who care about the district to be that voice, even though it’s not the same as having someone on the board sitting with that inside knowledge.”