While anti-incumbency sentiment has pushed challengers to the top of the City Council race, this trend does not hold for the School Board or College Board where incumbents have clinched their seats by a wide margin.
Incumbents Jon Kean and Maria Leon-Vazquez topped the school board race with Wednesday vote counts of 20,366 and 19,202 respectively. Jen Smith is set to take the third seat with 18,366 votes, which place her 6,618 votes ahead of fourth place candidate Jason Feldman.
On the College Board, incumbents Susan Aminoff, Margaret Quinones-Perez, and Rob Greenstein Rader will hold their seats and each gained at least 10,000 more votes than challenger Brian O’Neil.
“At the end of the day people looked at track records and they chose people by a wide margin who have experience working in our community and working with schools,” said Kean. “It’s not like voters are pro incumbent; look at the City Council race.”
The School Board race was unusually crowded this year with eight candidates vying for three seats. Three of the challengers — Esther Hickman, Steven Johnson, and Jason Feldman — formed a “New Leadership” slate on a platform of increased board transparency, reigning in spending, and prioritizing teachers.
While the challenger “Change” slate on City Council rose to the top of the polls, the “New Leadership” team did not score competitively in this race, where voters overwhelmingly supported the two incumbents running.
The third open seat went to Jen Smith, who is a first-time candidate, but holds close ties to current School Board members having served as Santa-Monica Malibu PTA President.
Smith said she was encouraged to run for School Board by community members who are involved in local politics and saw Smith’s strong volunteer work with the District.
“I think it (the idea to run) was put there by other people, because it really wasn’t something in my lifetime I’d seen myself doing,” said Smith. “But I came to care deeply about education in our community and once I understood how School Board members function in getting our children’s education, I wanted to ensure that the quality and the level of commitment to public education would remain strong.”
Both Kean and Smith said maximizing the quality and safety of education during the pandemic was their top priority. Leon-Vazquez, who was elected for her 6th term, did not respond for comment.
Kean and Smith are also committed to increased transparency, improving board communication and balancing the budget, which were top issues highlighted by the challenger slate.
“I understand what they (slate members) were trying to put forth,” said Smith. “I always think a person who is going to serve your community has to be open and willing to hear what is happening in everybody’s lives, and in their families, and in their school, and that will never change for me.”
“I really believe we’ve turned a corner on fiscal responsibility and I want to continue with that,” said Kean. “We can always do better at communicating. I believe that has to be a priority.”
The re-elected College Board Members also seek to strengthen communication and provide strong financial oversight. Their platforms focused on responding to the pandemic and continuing to close the equity gap.
“I am truly honored that the voters of Santa Monica and Malibu have once again trusted me to be a member of the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees,” said Aminoff.
“I’m very proud that the people of Malibu and Santa Monica have shown confidence in entrusting me with their children’s education,” said Greenstein Rader. “We continue to help people change their lives through an excellent education and I look forward to the next four years. I’m thankful to SMRR, the Santa Monica Democratic Club, CEPS and, most of all, the voters for their support.”