What Democratic Process?

Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights’ (SMRR) steering committee’s decision to over-ride the membership and endorse incumbent Jose Escarce for re-election to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education has rendered the election itself superfluous and virtually ensured the perpetuation of the status quo in the District.

There are four ostensibly open seats on the board. Escarce’s fellow incumbent Maria Leon-Vasquez is also running for re-election. Incumbent Ralph Mechur, who was appointed by the Board to replace Emily Bloomfield when she moved away, is running, unopposed, to complete the two years remaining in his term.

Leon-Vasquez and Mechur have also been endorsed by SMRR.
Judith Meister, a veteran PTA activist, ended her candidacy after SMRR leaders gave the nod to Escarce.

The two remaining candidates are political newcomers. Ben Allen, a graduate of Samohi and a former UC student regent, was also endorsed by SMRR. Chris Bley, a teacher at Brentwood School. is the fifth candidate.
It would take a political earthquake for Bley to break the SMRR grip on the School Board. But the District, like City Hall, is in need of a major shakeup.
Here and now, the District is beset by problems that derive directly from the Board’s inability or unwillingness to act decisively.

Some Malibu parents want to break away from Santa Monica.

The District can’t seem to hold on to superintendents – either because it makes bad choices, or because the job is too taxing.

The Board doesn’t seem to manage money very well, with mini-financial crises popping up regularly.

And it has managed to make a shambles of special education programs. In 2004, a group of teachers and parents developed a workable special ed program. It was “approved” by the Board, but never adopted, and students with special needs and their parents remained in an awful limbo.
The parents told their horror stories to the Board again and again, but the Board did nothing. In contrast, on hearing the parents’ stories, three members of the City Council took steps immediately to reform the system.

In endorsing Escarce, the SMRR steering committee claimed that they were taking the unusual step, in part, because the parents of children with special needs had “packed” the convention in order oppose Escarce’s endorsement. In fact, the parents had played by SMRR rules, signing up, paying their dues and voting. In fact, if anyone broke the rules, it was the committee itself, and the democratic process, District voters and the School District are all the worse for it.

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