MALIBU — The local school district race just got interesting.
Three education advocates from Malibu have thrown their hats in the ring, challenging the three incumbents for their spots on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education.
Craig Foster, Seth Jacobson and Karen Ferrar pulled papers Wednesday in what is now a seven-member school board race.
If all seven get the 100 signatures required to qualify for the November ballot by Aug. 10, the three Malibu residents will face off against incumbents Jose Escarce, Maria Leon Vazquez and Ben Allen as well as candidate Jake Wachtel, who also ran in 2010.
Although they believe their candidacy could solve Malibu’s long-standing complaint regarding a lack of representation on the Board of Education, the Malibu candidates will strive to represent the interests of all students in the schools, they said.
“People want their kids to get the best education they possibly can,” Foster said. “There’s a strong sense in the district that our cities deserve a really high level of public education and that while we have a high level of public education, we’re nowhere near the potential or level that we deserve as a combined community.”
The three are running as what they call the “reform slate” with a common platform that emphasizes student achievement, reduced classroom size, closing the achievement gap between district demographic groups and working with the teachers’ union to put in place best practices.
They plan to fund this by cutting down on the cost of administration and by creating an independent Malibu School District, which staff believes would redirect Santa Monica funds back to a sole Santa Monica district.
“We’re running on a platform to put ourselves out of work,” Jacobson said.
Over the course of the last year, Malibu residents have expressed their distrust of the Board of Education, whose seven members live in Santa Monica.
Controversial issues like districtwide fundraising and the newly proposed $385 million bond measure have come and gone before the board, with what many in Malibu would say was little thought to the interests of their city and their needs.
That, in part, guided the decision of the three candidates to run together. One seat might not serve to get Malibu’s interests across, but three would hold a strong minority on the board.
“We feel we’re more powerful as three,” Jacobson said. “Considering there are three open seats, it’s important to show that we want representation and are willing to aggressively pursue broad representation on the board and take on the status quo.”
Each candidate comes with a background of advocacy in Malibu.
All three belong to Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, or AMPS, as well as the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee, a group created to help form policy surrounding the controversial topic of districtwide fundraising.
Foster served as President of the Webster Elementary Parent Teacher Association, and Jacobson is the former vice president of the Pt. Dume Marine Science Academy parent group.
Ferrar also comes to the table with PTA credentials as the former president of Webster Elementary School, former executive board member at Pt. Dume, executive vice president of the Malibu High School PTA and nine-year member of the PTA Council Executive Board.
Jacobson and Ferrar also served on the Shark Fund, which raises money for sports programs in Malibu.
Their candidacy has support within Malibu leadership like Mayor Laura Rosenthal and Councilmember Lou La Monte.
La Monte was surprised and happy to hear that the three had pulled papers in the election.
“These are three incredibly capable candidates,” La Monte said.
The Malibu City Council will vote on co-sponsoring a forum for the school district and college district on Aug. 13.
In the meantime, the three candidates will push forward with their message both in Malibu and Santa Monica.
“We think that with a strong message and a compelling theme to our candidacy, we can hopefully overcome those entrenched lines that have been drawn in the sand — school versus school, city versus city — and make it about the kids,” Jacobson said.