DOWNTOWN — Education activists organized as the group LEAD is pushing for a new direction on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board, endorsing two challengers in November’s election and declining to support incumbents Oscar de la Torre and Ralph Mechur.

LEAD, which stands for Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability and Direction for SMMUSD, has announced it will back just three candidates for the four school board seats available in November: challengers Patrick Cady and Laurie Lieberman, and incumbent Barry Snell, the current board president.

The move by LEAD contrasts with the endorsement selections announced last week by another prominent school group, Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS), which is backing all three incumbents in addition to challenger Laurie Lieberman.  

Debbie Mulvaney, LEAD’s chair, said the group’s 19-member steering committee made the selections after evaluating candidates based on their responses to a written LEAD questionnaire and their performance at last week’s LEAD- and CEPS-sponsored candidate forum.

“Among all the candidates, Cady, Lieberman and Snell impressed us as best embodying the qualities that LEAD sees as critical to excellent school board functioning,” Mulvaney said. “Each of them shows a commitment to equity and inclusion, has demonstrated effective leadership on education issues, and has shown a willingness to tackle difficult issues in a collaborative manner.”

Sixty percent of steering committee members present had to support a candidate in order to award a LEAD endorsement.

“Only three people rose to the level that we felt was what we were looking for,” Mulvaney said.

The group backed Cady, a teacher and coach for 35 years in the Santa Monica-Malibu school system, in part because members felt it was important to have the perspective of an educator on the board, Mulvaney said. Members also liked the fact that he is a resident of Malibu, which currently lacks a representative on the school board.

“Mr. Cady possesses first-hand knowledge of school programs and policies that will be invaluable when matters involving classroom priorities, class size, and alternate instructional methods come before the school board,” she said.

Lieberman, a former co-chair of LEAD, won the group’s support “based on her long-standing commitment to quality public education in the school district, her fundraising leadership on the Measure A campaign, her legal and advocacy work in persuading the City Council to add Measure YY to the November Santa Monica ballot and her active participation in the SAMOHI Coalition,” according to a LEAD press release.

LEAD credited Snell, the only incumbent to win the group’s support, with “having led the board of education effectively during a tumultuous period that included changes in district leadership, drastic state budget cuts [and] a failed parcel tax.”

“LEAD members viewed Mr. Snell as having reached out in important ways to connect with schools and their communities, and having been open to differing points of view,” the group’s press release stated.

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