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 on Sept. 2, and a new one will appear in the newspaper each week through Oct. 21. To access previous profiles online, go to www.malibutimes.com. Click “Archives” on the top right. Choose “Advanced Search Options.” Select Sept. 1 as the start date and type “Meet the Board of Education candidates” in the search box.
Name: Laurie Lieberman
Birth date: January 6, 1953
What is your education and employment history?
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, attending public schools from kindergarten through college and law school. I earned a B.A. in Sociology from UCLA in 1975, graduated from UCLA Law School in 1978 and completed all coursework toward a masters degree in Urban Planning at UCLA in the mid-1980s.
I worked full time as an attorney for 13 years from 1979 – 1992. Most of those years were spent in the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office, focusing on policy and planning-related issues (e.g., rent control, housing, and land use) and providing advice to various departments in the City of Santa Monica. I have worked part-time on and off since 1992 doing public policy consulting and legal work.
How did you become involved in school issues? What has your involvement included?
My parents instilled in me the vital role that public education plays in creating opportunity for all. I am committed to ensuring that every SMMUSD student receives the best education possible. I have served as:
Chair, Board of Directors, The Growing Place Preschool, 1996 – 1998
Member, Will Rogers PTSA, 1996 – 2005
Member, Executive Committee, Santa Monica Youth Athletic Foundation, 1995 – 2008
Director, Santa Monica Surf Girls Basketball Program, 2001-2008
Member, Executive Committee, Samohi PTSA, 2007-present
Co-Chair, Samohi Coalition – helped secure $56 million of BB funds and $57 million from Santa Monica’s Redevelopment Agency for City/School District project, 2007- present
Co-chair and Founding Member of LEAD (Leadership * Effectiveness * Accountability * Direction for SMMUSD), 2008 – August 2010
Co-chair, Legal Committee; Member, Executive Committee, Parcel Tax Feasibility Committee, 2009-present
Member, Samohi Choir Board, 2010
Chair, Fundraising, Measure A Campaign, 2010
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?
This feeling is understandable. Although Santa Monica and Malibu are part of a unified school district, the vast majority of district students and voters come from Santa Monica. All current school board members are from Santa Monica, the central office is in Santa Monica and our two cities are 15 miles apart. If I am elected, I will work hard to change the feeling that Malibu is an “afterthought” and to ensure that Malibu families are heard and feel an integral part of the district.
As a school board member, I will meet regularly with Malibu parents and staff to listen and learn, and address the specific concerns of Malibu schools. I will also develop opportunities for district-wide shared educational and social experiences. Whether we live in Santa Monica or Malibu, we all share the same aspirations for our children and our schools.
How have you tried to interface with Malibu residents, including education and city leaders? What have you accomplished?
As an active participant and leader on school district issues for many years, I have worked collaboratively and productively with community members from both cities. This includes the recent Measure A and Measure R parcel tax campaigns. I am using my campaign as the catalyst for building a stronger, more trusting relationship with Malibu education, civic and city leaders, and will continue to do so after the election. I am sincere in my desire to listen and I am firmly committed to representing Malibu families fairly, and to improving relations between Santa Monica and Malibu. In my view, establishing an ongoing dialogue with Malibu parents and school staff, as well as education and city leaders, is a critical part of being an effective school board member.
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?
The president of Samohi’s Athletic Booster Club and I had a very productive meeting with a representative from the Malibu High School Athletic Booster Club. We met to discuss and gain an understanding of the very successful structure of Malibu High’s Booster Club. We were (and are) looking for ways to improve both the structure and the actual support for athletics and the existing teams at Samohi. While we all got deluged with other activities, it was a terrific meeting, which reinforced my conviction that if parent activists from Malibu and Santa Monica meet regularly to share concerns, we can learn and help each other a great deal. This is a concrete example of how trust can be built within our district through sharing of issues and experiences. As parents who want our children to have the best education possible, we have much in common.
What is your opinion on the demand by some Malibu parents for the formation of a Malibu school district?
If the majority of Malibu parents would prefer to form an independent Malibu school district, I will support their attempt to do so. However, it is my understanding that this undertaking may not be financially viable and therefore may not be approved by the state. Therefore, assuming research into the feasibility of creating a separate Malibu district goes forward, it is imperative that we continue on a parallel track to improve our unified district by bettering communication between Malibu and Santa Monica and building a sense of trust and collaboration.
Assuming separation turns out to be a viable option, looking into it is likely to be a protracted process. In the meantime, we must continue to deliver the best education possible to children in Malibu schools. That means continuing to focus on expanding the district’s fiscal resources and improving educational programs and opportunities.
What is your opinion on the effort to make Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School a charter school?
I am open to Point Dume’s efforts to become a charter school. But first it must go through a well-defined state-mandated process and meet the legal requirements for becoming a charter school. While there are a number of important details to consider (necessary teacher support, provision of services, etc.), it is my understanding that a proposal that is fiscally and academically sound would likely qualify for approval. Clearly Point Dume is a special school, which offers significant educational opportunities that we should do our best to preserve, whether as an SMMUSD school or a charter school.
Is the school district doing all it can to solve budget issues? Are there concepts that have not been tried?
The school board and staff have done a reasonably good job managing the district’s budget through very trying times, but we can still make improvements on both the revenue and expenditure sides of the ledger. While the SOS campaign was an incredibly successful stop-gap measure, what we really need is new stable, annual revenue that Sacramento cannot take away. The best potential source is Proposition Y, the Santa Monica half-cent sales tax increase, and Proposition YY, which recommends that half of these funds (about $6 million/year) go to the district. I was one of the prime movers for that allocation. The Financial Oversight Committee’s research into expenditure reductions in other comparable school districts, along with the superintendent’s budget working group, should continue. Since over 80% of the budget is in personnel, we must continue working closely with district staff to keep those costs under control.
What is your experience dealing with budgets? How about legislation?
I have hands-on experience analyzing and balancing budgets as a member of the Board of Directors of the Ocean Park Community Center (a social services agency), as chair of the Growing Place Board of Directors (my children’s pre-school) for two years, and as the director of the Santa Monica Surf (a non-profit girls’ basketball program) for seven years.
I have a great deal of experience with legislation. I spent 12 years working as an attorney for the City of Santa Monica, where much of my work involved drafting local legislation as well as interpreting and analyzing local and state legislation. While my field was not education, my legal experience is primarily in social policy, thus I have spent countless hours advising the City Council, the Planning Commission and city staff on legislative issues.
How many people are in your immediate family, regardless of whether they live at home? Feel free to mention their names and ages.
There are four people in my immediate family. I live with my husband, Chris Harding, a local attorney who has supported our School District in a myriad of ways, serving on countless District committees over the years. I also live with my 16-year-old-son Peter, a junior at Samohi. My daughter Jennie is 19 years old, graduated from Samohi last year, and is beginning her sophomore year at Williams College.
What are your interests and hobbies not involving school issues?
I enjoy reading, walking, playing tennis and spending time with family and friends. I love music, theater, movies, politics, sports and travel.