Meet the Board of Education candidates

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 last week, and a new one will appear in the newspaper each week through Oct. 21

To access last week’s profile online, go to Click “Archives” on the top right. Type “Meet the Board of Education candidates” in the search box.

Name: Chris Bley

Birth date? August 22, 1973

What is your education and employment history?

* 2001-present: Full-time high school history and government teacher for 10-12th grades

* 1998-2000: Teacher, Peace Corps, Romania

* 1997: Clinton/Gore Campaign. Deputy Director “Get out the Vote”

* 1996, 2000, 2004: Democratic Convention management staff

* B.A. in History from Colorado State University: 1995

* Santa Monica-Malibu School District: Graduated, 1991

* Please see for more detailed biography

How did you become involved in school issues? What has your involvement included?

For the past twenty-five years I’ve been closely involved in education. The last ten years I have taught high school full time. Prior to that, I worked as an English Instructor in the Peace Corps for two years. My roots in education began as a teacher’s assistant in Special Education more than 20 years ago, and I have continued to be actively involved with these students. Most recently I have focused my efforts in Santa Monica and Malibu on the financial and leadership crisis facing our district and Board of Education.

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?

Current school board members (with limited exceptions) have not made the time nor shown the leadership to visit Malibu and address pertinent issues. This is symptomatic of a board that regularly disregards community input and generally rubber-stamps district administrators’ decisions. Projects, such those that involve bond allocation decisions, reflect the interests of narrow stakeholder groups.

My platform calls for a minimum of two community meetings per month across the district—from Point Dume to Santa Monica.

How have you tried to interface with Malibu residents, including education and city leaders? What have you accomplished?

In my campaigns for School Board, I have spent a considerable amount of time in Malibu working with the Special Ed community, parent groups, and Malibu civic leaders, including former Mayor Ken Kearsley. As a school board member, I would look forward to strengthening these relationships while advocating for increased board involvement in and about Malibu.

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?

Over the last two campaigns, I have had numerous discussions with parents, civic, and educational leaders in and about Malibu. There is an increasing distance between what Malibu parents want and believe they should receive from the district and what they feel is being given to Malibu schools. From the dispute over the allocation of BB bond money a few years back to the current disenchantment towards the board as seen in the failure of the parcel tax in Malibu, I’ve learned first-hand that Malibu’s claims of unequal expenditures and lack of communication from the board and the district have caused our partners in the school district to feel truly left out of the decision-making process at all levels.

What is your opinion on the demand by some Malibu parents for the formation of a Malibu school district?

SMMUSD has historically benefited from the partnership between Santa Monica and Malibu. I seek to further strengthen this partnership through greater attention to Malibu’s needs and broadening the currently narrow vision.

However, should a clear majority of Malibu parents and community leaders develop an academically and financially sound plan for autonomy, I would support it.

What is your opinion on the effort to make Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School a charter school?

Parents at Point Dume are justifiably concerned about the future of their school. With declining enrollment and the financial crisis of our school district, it is realistic for them to plan for the future of their children’s education at this location. When you add in the financial mismanagement by our current board, and their lack of attention to basic budget matters, Point Dume parents, even without declining enrollment, have a right to wonder what is in store for them. If enrollment declines significantly, hard choices would need to be discussed and possibly made. Should a clear majority of Point Dume parents and community members seek charter status with a viable plan, I would support it.

Is the school district doing all it can to solve budget issues? Are there concepts that have not been tried?

Because our School Board has shown a disturbing lack of desire to manage the budget, we face an unprecedented financial crisis.

Board members cut teachers rather than questioning any of these details:

* Spending $2.05 million in the last 3 reported fiscal years on recruiting and training at a time of declining District staffing

* Increasing General Administration expenses by 4.5% this year

* Spending $812,000 on centralized data processing compared to $89,000 spent by neighboring Las Virgenes School District

One budgetary practice I would introduce is zero-based budgeting for non-classroom areas. Those expenses would then have to be justified regularly instead of just carried over at the same level or increased from year to year.

Our current board may make small adjustments, but generally accepts whatever budget decisions administrators make. That’s following, not leading. We need elected officials who take the reins, not just sit on the horse.

What is your experience dealing with budgets? How about legislation?

I’ve staffed three Democratic conventions since 1996, dealing with multiple and complex budgets involving over 10,000 individuals. Most recently, I have spent several weeks analyzing the SMMUSD budget. Please see for more details on my budget analyses.

How many people are in your immediate family, regardless of whether they live at home? Feel free to mention their names and ages.

My immediate family includes my mother and father, both of whom have long careers in education as teachers and administrators.

What are your interests and hobbies not involving school issues?

Reading fiction and non-fiction, sports, exercise, movies.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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