Ralph Mechur was appointed to the local Board of Education following an approximately five-hour meeting Thursday night at Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District headquarters.
He defeated eight other candidates for the right to fill the seat vacated by Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), who was elected to the state senate in November.
Mechur’s term expires at the end of 2016, although his appointment is considered provisional for a 30-day period during which voters can challenge it by petitioning for a special election.
“I am dedicated to solving the problems we have and working collaboratively,” he said after taking a seat on the dais. “I am delighted to have your support and pledge to work collaboratively with each and every one of you.”
Mechur garnered support from four of the six deliberating SMMUSD board members, winning votes from Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, Maria Leon-Vazquez, Oscar de la Torre and Jose Escarce.
The only quirk of the process came when de la Torre selected Mechur after nominating Malibu parent Jennifer deNicola, citing the fact that no women had been nominated.
Real estate finance lawyer Tom Larmore received a nomination and vote from board president Laurie Lieberman. Board member Craig Foster followed through on his nomination with a vote for Jon Kean, the PTA president at Lincoln Middle School.
Mechur, one of three applicants who failed to capture a board spot in last year’s election, was endorsed by Allen before the November vote. He finished fifth in a race for four seats at the time, tallying more than 11,000 votes.
Mechur has served on the school board before. The professional architect first joined the seven-member entity as an appointee in 2007 and reclaimed a seat through election in 2010.
Mechur and his fellow applicants each had 15 minutes to give an opening statement, answer four predetermined questions and provide closing comments. The open-ended questions revolved around the district’s centralized fundraising policy, the role of standardized testing, the public-versus-private education debate and the challenges of the decision-making process.
Mechur said one of his priorities is to rally the community around centralized fundraising, which he believes provides equality for students.
He said standardized testing is imperfect but can be beneficial to educators if properly analyzed.
“In era of data, what kind of data can we collect to better understand how every student is taking in information?” Mechur said. “Are they truly learning the concepts?”
Mechur, whose three children attended Santa Monica public schools, defended the role of public education in an area with several well-known private schools. He argued that students who attend public schools learn to be more independent and are thus better prepared for college.
“It’s time for us to really dream and put the future out there,” he said. “It’s an exciting time, and I welcome the opportunity.”
The board’s selection of Mechur mirrored the support he received from community members during the meeting’s public comment period. Ten of the 19 speakers made pro-Mechur statements. Two urged the board not to select him.
Applications to fill Allen’s seat were posted Dec. 2 and accepted through Dec. 18, according to district Supt. Sandra Lyon. The 10 eligible candidates were then invited to be interviewed at Thursday’s school board meeting, nine of whom participated.
The field included Mechur, Larmore, Kean and deNicola as well as Larry Droeger, David Hays, Dhun May, Sion Roy and Jake Wachtel. Patty Finer submitted an application but did not respond to calls from the board and did not attend the meeting.
“Some of you will run in 2016, and that’s exciting,” de la Torre said. “There are so many good candidates. This community will benefit from the future leadership in this school district.”
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