MALIBU — Local education activist Craig Foster announced this week he plans to enter this year’s Board of Education race in an attempt to get Malibu a seat back at the table — six years after Malibu last had a representative on the governing body of the Santa Monica- Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) and two years after Foster lost his first attempt.
Foster is the president of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS) and has spent several years working to form a separate Malibu school district.
“I really do think and hope that there’s not only an acceptance, but a certain amount of desire by a lot of people in Santa Monica to hear Malibu’s voice and include Malibu’s voice and vision more directly,” said Foster. “I hope by election day, people are comfortable that I’ll be that person.”
The current school board includes seven members, all from Santa Monica. However, a shake-up of the board seems inevitable, as Nimish Patel, member since 2010, recently announced he will not be seeking a second term. Patel’s announcement came as fellow board member Ben Allen continues his bid for California State Senate. If Allen wins that election, an appointment will be made to fill his seat. Three other board members are up for re-election in the fall: Oscar de la Torre, Laurie Lieberman and Ralph Mechur.
Foster and Seth Jacobson, who ran on Foster’s slate in 2012, agree that facing incumbent candidates made election to the school board more challenging during that election.
“This time we’re hopeful that with one incumbent not running for reelection, and with the opportunity to build stronger alliances with Santa Monica over the last two years, we have an opportunity to really build a strong relationship with the communities of Santa Monica and Malibu,” said Jacobson.
The alliance between the cities could prove crucial to Foster’s election, since more than 85 percent of constituents live in Santa Monica.
Jacobson and Karen Farrer, the two candidates who ran with Foster in 2012, are expected to play a role in Foster’s campaign, where unity is a focal point.
“This isn’t me versus them. We were working completely cooperatively last time and we’re working completely cooperatively this time,” Foster said.
When it comes to issues here in Malibu, Foster said that cleaning up Malibu High School “absolutely” would be more prioritized with a Malibu candidate on the board.
“I think everybody agrees the process is moving too slowly,” said Foster. “I don’t think it’s hard, we just have to do it.”
The other main concern in Malibu is separation from SMMUSD, an issue with which Jacobson said a board member could be instrumental in furthering.
“If we move forward on our schedule as we hope to do in the next six months and issue petitions for separation … we’re going to need the support of the board,” said Jacobson.
Foster said that in the two years since he ran on a slate for a seat on the board, both he and Malibu have changed.
“I think Malibu’s much more focused on their schools now, and I’m two years more experienced in being a community leader and a voice for what people want in their schools,” said Foster.
Community concern doesn’t stop at the border, Foster continued, but the fact that Santa Monicans are also more concerned with their district can help his chances of being elected.
“I think people in Santa Monica are much more engaged in their school district than they were before,” said Foster, adding, “that’s really the challenge to me, to make sure the people who are listening hear what I have to say, and I think when they do, they’re going to like it.”
The SMMUSD School Board elections are set to take place this November. So far, no other Malibu hopefuls have tossed their hats in the ring, but the deadline for nominations is not until August 8.
This article originally appeard in The Malibu Times.