Regular readers know I think the current Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education has failed in its oversight and demonstrated an appalling lack of leadership in handling problems such as continual budget shortfalls.

This is a critical year for our schools. Hopefully, voters will inject new blood into an anemic school board and toss out incumbents Barry Snell, Ralph Mechur and Oscar de la Torre.

The right people could make a big difference in financially stabilizing the district, mitigating future risks to public education and reducing the need for continual tax schemes and relying on bailouts from the city of Santa Monica.

School teacher Chris Bley is stressing financial accountability. He promises to curb overspending, waste and to obtain fiscal stability for the district.

In comparing the SMMUSD with the similarly-sized Las Virgenes Unified School District in Calabasas, he points out the SMMUSD far outspends the LVUSD in administrative expense, personnel services, data processing and other areas. I’d add to that legal expenses and other unnecessary non-classroom spending.

School cheerleaders don’t want to hear bad news. Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights Co-Chair Patricia Hoffman called out, “liar” and "b******t" at a recent Santa Monica Democratic Club (Little SMRR) meeting while Bley was presenting his case. While not as rude as Hoffman, there are plenty of other school supporters who’ve drunk the same Kool-Aid and there’s a reason why. Read on. In the meantime, Bley has my vote.

Nimish Patel is a Certified Public Accountant and he’s on the district financial oversight committee making him a serious contender for a board seat.

Patel has a realistic assessment of the problems and good solutions. He says the district must become self-sustaining economically. He recommends hiring a full-time professional fund raiser, securing outside grants and corporate gifts and even leasing naming rights and merchandising our schools as a start. “Have any idea how much the ‘Malibu High School’ name is worth,” he asked me?

Patel believes that by properly managing its own affairs and securing funding from multiple sources, our schools would be less victimized by the “good times, bad times” roller coaster ride, cuts in state support, tax ballot measures that could fail and reliance on City Hall for subsidies. What a great concept.

Patel hasn’t received the big endorsements because he’s reluctant to trumpet the “everything’s wonderful” fantasy being promulgated by school supporters and incumbents to gain voter support for the Measure Y sales tax increase with its promise of additional monies for the district.

SMRR has tried hard to play Patel. SMRR leaders didn’t support Patel’s endorsement because he didn’t have a “history of tenant protection” as if “tenant protection” has anything to do with proper school oversight. Patel and Bley are real threats to SMRR’s power grip on the district’s throat and SMRR leaders have used their extensive political clout to make sure both candidates were shut out of key endorsements.

They’ve underestimated Patel. He’s doesn’t owe anybody political favors. He’s energetic, independent and smart. His election could turn things around and provide leadership for a stronger, reconstituted school board and an improved classroom environment. Patel also has my vote.

Laurie Lieberman has a long list of endorsements. (Speaking of endorsements, Lieberman has a history of “tenant protection?") Nevertheless, I only see generalities in what she expects to accomplish. Here are some of the things she’s said: “close the achievement gap,” “provide strong leadership,” “support … high quality teachers and staff …” and “innovative program and instruction." Snore.

One thing seems certain, with her extensive background promoting tax measures and her promise of “enhancing local funding sources — both public and private,” I hope that doesn’t mean more taxing and overspending if she’s elected — and she’s expected to win easily.

It would be great to have a Malibu resident on the school board again, but can Patrick Cady bring to the table the kind of leadership it so desperately needs?

Retired teacher and athletic coach Cady’s public statements and literature seem to position him as very pro-teacher. In a time of tight money, he’s still an advocate of “staying near the top in salaries and benefits” for teachers and administrators which may be the wrong message to send these days.

Lastly is producer Jake Wachtel who may have a grip on the problems and a way to solve them, but his flippancy at the Daily Press’ Squirm Night two weeks ago was off-putting. But, his (and Patel’s) recommendation of hiring a director of development to raise funds for the district is the kind of solution to a problem I’m looking for.

The district is desperate for money but still pays the bulk of classroom teachers union President Harry Keiley’s salary — about $55,000 annually. While Bley, Wachtel and Patel would consider renegotiating Keiley’s contract so that his own union pays his salary, Lieberman and Cady defend his being on the district and taxpayer payroll.

Next week: City Council.

Bill can be reached at

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