Malibu’s only representative on the SMMUSD will not seek reelection

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Trustee Craig Foster (center) with his wife, Lili Foster (right), daughter Mia Foster (left), and their dog Mabel. Photo courtesy of Craig Foster.

Craig Foster, Malibu’s only representative on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board, will not be seeking a third term. The two-term board member said, “The reason I think eight years is enough for me is that as I’ve served the community before and on the board, I see that there’s a steady progression of school leaders who move on in local schools. The school board needs to be the same way. It’s very important to be connected to the schools in your life, and that it’s appropriate that new energy, new vision comes to the school board regularly to reinvigorate it and refocus it on the only thing the school board should be focused on which is doing what’s best for kids.”

Santa Monica voters seem to favor incumbents as SMMUSD board members typically serve multiple four-year terms. The longest serving member on the board is Maria Leon-Vazquez, who will serve 24 years before her current term ends. Laurie Lieberman is running for a fourth term which would give her 16 years on the board if she’s successful this fall.

Sixty-three-year-old Foster got involved with his daughter’s education as a classroom volunteer when she started kindergarten in Malibu public schools. 

“I wanted to be a nice guy to help out the teacher. The next thing I knew, I fell in love with education,” Foster explained. He earned a master’s degree and a teaching credential and for a while considered being a classroom teacher but his friends urged him to run for the SMMUSD board, saying “you could help more kids that way.” It wasn’t easy going up against Santa Monica voters from a bigger jurisdiction with long simmering tensions between the two cities, generally concerning allocations of funds to each city’s schools. For six years prior to his election there was no Malibu resident on the board. Foster was unsuccessful his first try in 2012, but beat an incumbent to win a seat in 2014. During his tenure, he championed Malibu’s interest in cleaning up the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at Malibu High School and was one of the loudest voices in Malibu’s separation from the district.

Now that Foster’s daughter is in college, he said, “I’m no longer hearing what’s going on in the schools. I’m no longer connected. I teach a class at Webster, but that’s maybe 20 kids a year. For me, I don’t feel I’m the new voice. I don’t feel connected to the schools the way I need to be, and more importantly, I know there are people out there who have new energy and new ideas. That’s what the school board needs.”

The 22-year Malibu resident has endorsed another resident, Stacy Rouse, in hopes for her to take his place on the school board. The former Webster Elementary Parent Teacher Association president has followed Foster in a number of roles and is a longtime Malibu Schools Leadership Council member. 

“She is the perfect person to bring people together and move things forward. I’m thrilled she has stepped forward in this moment.” Foster said. Rouse also holds a master’s degree in dispute resolution from the Straus Institute at Pepperdine University, something that may come in handy as Malibu and Santa Monica are still disentangling finances in Malibu’s hard-fought separation from the district.

As a board member, Foster no longer negotiates the details on the separation, but he is still a strong proponent. “Santa Monica absolutely, completely does not need or benefit from having Malibu as part of its district,” he stated.

“I’ve always kept my attention on what’s good for the kids. With each decision that comes up, I measure against which of these choices is going to help our kids be ready for college and career, which is going to give them emotional safety, and which is going to do the best to take care of these vulnerable young lives that we’re entrusted with. For me, it was always about getting the kids the education they deserved in a safe and enriching, exciting environment.” 

As the lone voice representing Malibu interests with six other Santa Monica focused board members, Foster concluded, “I have felt such love from this community, such support. It has been one of the great pleasures of my life to serve all of these wonderful people and their children and to feel their love and appreciation for what I’ve tried to do for them. I want to make sure all the people in this community understand how much that’s meant to me and how much they’ve given me as I’ve tried to serve them. I’m deeply grateful.”