The race for seats on the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s Board of Education just got a little more interesting.

Longtime board member Jose Escarce will not seek re-election to the district’s governing body, telling the Daily Press via email that he will not run to keep his seat in November.

News of the future vacancy comes at a critical juncture for the district, which is currently searching for a new superintendent as it faces a protracted legal battle over chemical cleanup at Malibu schools and looks into the possible creation of a separate Malibu district, among other weighty issues.

“Serving on the school board has been a wonderful honor and privilege, but 16 years is a long time,” Escarce said in an email. “It’s time to give others a chance.”

Escarce is one of three school board members whose seats are expiring in December, joining Ralph Mechur and Maria Leon-Vazquez. The other four board members’ terms are up at the end of 2018.

In response to a Daily Press inquiry, Mechur said in March that he will campaign to remain on the board.

Mechur was appointed to the board in January 2015 after beating eight other candidates for the seat vacated by Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), who was elected to the California State Senate. He had failed to claim a seat in the 2014 election, tallying more than 11,000 votes to finish fifth in a race for four vacancies.

“I’m excited about the work we’re doing, providing equitable services for all students,” Mechur said earlier this year. “I look forward to continuing to serve the community and our kids. … I look forward to being able to continue to be part of the governance team to help this be a stronger district.”

It remains unclear as to whether Leon-Vazquez, also a longtime board member, will seek re-election. She has not announced her intentions publicly and has not yet filed candidate paperwork, according to the Santa Monica city clerk’s website.

The only challenger in the race so far is Jon Kean, an active SMMUSD parent leader and a member of the district’s financial oversight committee.

“I’m not saying that I have all the answers and that progress is as easy as flipping a switch, but I do believe that I have an understanding of the conversations that we need to be having at our school board,” he told the Daily Press earlier this year.

Escarce, an internist, health economist and researcher, has taught at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and served as a scientist at RAND Corporation. His three children all graduated from Santa Monica High School.

In recent years, Escarce and other board members have spent ample time on non-classroom issues, including environmental remediation, districtwide fundraising, possible separation, bond allocations and budgetary considerations.

He said the biggest challenge for SMMUSD going forward is implementing programs to reduce academic achievement gaps that persist between minority students and their peers.

“In the big picture, the only [challenge] that really matters is improving the education we provide to our students, and especially to our disadvantaged students,” he said. “That’s why everyone is in this, although I realize that it often seems to get lost.”

jeff@smdp.com

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