Given the sheer amount of complaining and criticism that occurs around the Santa Monica-Malibu School District, recent choices for the school board have been surprisingly few in number.

This year we are relieved to see there are some real contenders on the ballot that are willing to put their boots on the ground and actually do the work. This board is always underestimated in its impact to our community.

Top-notch school districts support a vibrant, connected community, bolsters real estate and sustains a sense of local pride. SMMUSD has grown astronauts, professional athletes, Rob Lowe and Steven Miller.

Our school district has the budget of a medium-sized S&P 500 company, has real estate assets that are worth more than Santa Monica Place, the Water Garden business complex and the US Bank Building (Downtown LA) combined. SMMUSD should be producing results, both academic and extracurricular, commensurate with these facts.

There are at least twice as many qualified candidates as there are open positions and while that’s going to dilute the vote it’s also allowing voters to customize their ballot to represent the pressing issues closest to home.

(Vote for 3)

These candidates absolutely deserve your vote.

Jon Kean (Incumbent)
Steven Johnson

Of the three open seats, we believe these two are the most qualified candidates and we recommended everyone select them as their
one and two choices.

Four years ago, Jon Kean was the only person in the entire city who cared enough to step up for an open seat on the Board and his dedication to the cause is unquestioned. He has demonstrated a firm grasp of the issues facing the district and knows how to navigate the complexities of managing schools.

Steven Johnson is part of a three person slate running in direct opposition to the current leadership. While all three individuals on the slate are qualified, we felt Johnson made the strongest case for his cause and his personal experience in the district should translate to a strong presence on the board. He is a strong advocate for fiscal responsibility, something that has been an issue for years in the district.

Outside that duo, there are four solid candidates to choose from, depending on your politics and priorities.

Keith Coleman
Jen Smith
Jason Feldman
Esther Hickman

Keith Coleman. If addressing the pending split with Malibu is a top priority, then Coleman is your guy. He has worked to secure the backing of the Malibu community and his academic qualifications are stellar.

Jen Smith. For voters who are generally satisfied with the current direction of local schools, Jen Smith is your third choice. She has spent years working through the PTA system and has an intimate knowledge of the current board’s thoughts and preferences.

Jason Feldman and Esther Hickman. Residents who are thoroughly dissatisfied with the District’s direction should select from Feldman or Hickman in their third slot. Both share a slate with Johnson as well as an overriding priority around transparency. While we felt Johnson was the strongest of the group, Feldman and Hickman are both valid choices for parents who want a change at the top.

We do not recommend.

Dhun May
Maria Leon Vasquez (Incumbent)

We can’t recommend voting for Dhun May or Maria Leon Vasquez.

Dhun May is a teacher and is very nice, but simply lacks a robust understanding of the important issues and her priorities, particularlyher opposition to vaccines, are not appropriate for the district.

Maria Leon Vazquez has served the district for 20 years and her service is admirable. She is to be thanked for her dedication but now that voters have multiple fresh voices, they should choose one. Twenty years is more than ample time in public service and the controversy around her votes to award contracts to the company employing her husband are reason enough for her time to end. If you are a voter that criticizes the district for its fiscal mismanagement, you cannot look further than those that have had oversight of the district for 20 years and Vazquez is that candidate.