Field Crowded for Vacant Board of Ed Seat


Eleven people have thrown their names in to be considered for the open Board of Education seat.

The list of candidates, who have not yet been vetted for eligibility by the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School district, includes the leader of a Malibu organization focused on having PCBs removed from the schools, a recently ousted board member, a Santa Monica real estate attorney, a district attorney, Santa Monica High School’s former baseball coach, and a PTA president. 

Earlier this month former Boardmember Ben Allen resigned with two years left on his term after being elected to the California Senate. The six remaining board members will select a seventh through a public appointment process. 

Thursday, Dec. 18, was the deadline for candidates to submit their applications to the district. 

Malibu applicant and parent Jennifer deNicola, president of Malibu Unites, has been a leader in advocating for the removal of PCBs from schools. She came on the scene in the aftermath of a major environmental scare at Malibu High School, Middle School and Juan Cabrillo Elementary. She speaks at many of Board of Ed meetings, calling for greater transparency surrounding the environmental and health concerns. 

The group has drawn national attention to the issue and continues to campaign for environmental safety at schools nationwide. 

Larry Droeger, of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, is applying for the open seat because he has two kids currently in the district and one who just graduated from Malibu High School. 

Droeger said he grew up in a rural farming community in Northern California where educational opportunities were sparse. 

Unlike some of his classmates, he said, he was able to seek out the educational opportunities and he wants his own kids to have “greater awareness and opportunity” than he did. 

“At the same time, particularly from exposure through my work, I see many families living in our community that are hampered by the same type of limitations, albeit, manifested very differently, of the people I grew up with,” Droeger said in an email. 

Thomas Larmore, an attorney and partner at Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, filed his application on Thursday. 

He’s running, he said in his application, because he supports public education but sees the district losing students to private schools. 

“I want to assist in addressing significant issues pending before the District,” he said in his application, “such as the achievement gap, the ‘unification’ proposal from some in Malibu, and adoption and updating of the LCAP, as well as the constant issues that surround school finance.” 

One of Larmore’s law firm partners is Christopher Harding, who is married to Board President Laurie Lieberman. 

Both of Larmore’s children graduated from Santa Monica High School. 

Former Boardmember Ralph Mechur wants his job back on the board, after placing fifth in a race for four seats in November’s election. He first joined the Board through appointment in 2007 and was elected in 2010. 

Jon Kean, who is currently the PTA president at Lincoln Middle School and previously served as the PTA president at Roosevelt Elementary, has applied. 

“I believe that the one guiding principle in our district should be: if there is something that would be beneficial for a student and we are capable of doing it, then we must do it,” he told the Santa Monica Daily Press earlier this month. “Too often, our first instinct is to resist change, based on budget constraints or institutional tradition.” 

Kurt Schwengel, who was controversially removed as the head coach of the Santa Monica High baseball team earlier this year, applied for the slot but will likely withdraw. Schwengel, who was recently appointed to Santa Monica’s Recreation and Parks Commission, is a kindergarten teacher within the district. 

“I was hoping to use my 33 years experience in SMMUSD (14 as a student, 19 as a teacher) to help out but alas, I was just informed of an ed code which states that I would have to quit my teaching position in order to serve on the school board,” Schwengel said.

Jake Wachtel placed eighth out of eight candidates in the 2010 Ed Board race, pulling in just over 6,000 votes. 

He’s stayed involved, he said, and has served as a PTA President at Grant Elementary. He worked previously as a coach and a teacher. 

Sion Roy, a member of the Santa Monica Democratic Club’s executive committee, is applying for the open seat as well. He is a cardiologist at Harbor UCLA Meidcal Center and chairs the district’s Health and Safety advisory committee. 

Dhun May, who placed seventh out of eight in November’s election, and Patty Finer, who placed eighth, submitted applications. David Hays has also applied for the position. 

The district will verify each potential candidate’s eligibility during winter break. 

Candidates will be interviewed in public on Jan. 15. The board may choose to make a nomination that night. 

A version of this story originally appeared in the Santa Monica Daily Press.