Last Friday, SMDP readers were treated to an epic exercise in journalistic dissonance. The following two headlines ran side by side:

“Candidates tinkering with what works on the School Board”

“Special needs parents win $45m lawsuit over abuse at SMMUSD school”

Let’s call it a win that the SMDP editorial board reluctantly backed into a grudging admission that the SMMUSD change slate is both a) qualified and b) backed by constituencies who have legitimate concerns and grievances. Anything less in the face of a $45m jury award would be dishonest. But strawmen still abound:

“Santa Monica has not just good, but great schools and to argue otherwise shows either a willingness to lie or a woefully inept understanding of public education.”

The curious omission of Malibu from that statement notwithstanding, everyone knows this isn’t the argument. The actual argument is, “Santa Monica AND MALIBU have schools which CAN AND SHOULD BE BETTER and PROBLEMS WHICH SHOULD NOT EXIST in light of HOW MUCH WE SPEND.” Are the schools “great”? That depends on whether your metric is data or people. For the sake of argument, let’s assume the questionable claim that Samohi ranks in the top six percent of schools in the state — for the second wealthiest district in the most populous county in a state where public education is already substandard relative to the rest of the country, is that really something to brag about? A letter from Superintendent Drati recently boasted that SMMUSD had moved up to 7th highest ranked district in Los Angeles County! Who’s ahead of us? Arcadia and Redondo Beach, among others who clearly shouldn’t be. 

This fixation on data at the expense of people, however, is a longstanding problem with SMMUSD culture. During the LACOE County Committee hearing on Malibu separation in November of 2021, SMMUSD counsel David Soldani exclaimed, “What is [Malibu] going to do with all that additional money that will improve a program that already has a 100% graduation rate?”

Apparently, in Mr. Soldani’s eyes, graduation rates are all that matter because graduation rates are data. And if it’s not in the data, does it really exist? 

Let’s talk about what doesn’t show up in the data: When your child struggles with social skills and learning loss — and district officials can’t be bothered to care because they don’t see it in their CAASPP scores. When you see 20% of your friends and your child’s friends leave the district because they’ve given up on anyone hearing much less caring about their concerns. When your freshman sees honors classes eviscerated for no good reason and worries how it might impact their college prospects. When the historic History Building, immortalized in countless movies, is demolished to make way for a hideous $165m glass-and-steel monstrosity, on the heels of $283m in recent construction that still doesn’t function properly. When parents spend years screaming about a mold problem at another campus, brought on by faulty construction, and the district simply ignores you until it’s literally too late — and then puts the burden on students and families by shuttering the campus and scattering the students. When your own district fights to prevent the proper removal of toxic PCBs from your campus, forcing parents to file suit — and win. When special education students and those with IEPs continue to be ignored because they don’t represent a significant enough voting constituency — and when those same special education children are so abused that they have to sue the district and win a $45m jury award just to prove to the world that the district is derelict.

But hey, as long as you’re hitting your marks on graduation rates — never mind.  Never mind that SMMUSD Assistant Superintendent Mark Kelly was specifically named as a defendant in the aforementioned suit. Never mind that a sitting board member was caught twice on a hot mic mocking and denigrating parents for the sin of advocating for their children. Never mind that the district is rumored to be facing even more such suits which it has not made public. Says the SMDP of such grievances: “None of these issues are about student outcomes.” 

Except that they are. Because “student outcomes” are about more than test scores. District negligence has taken a terrible toll on our communities, on marriages and families pushed to the brink until they simply broke, on unhappy and depressed children, on unsupported teachers. None of that shows up in the data — but it shows up in our homes, at our dinner tables and in our hearts. Are Esther Hickman, Miles Warner and Angela DiGaetano “campaigning angry”? Or does their passion simply look like anger alongside the unfeeling apathy of the incumbents? 

For the first time in generations, voters finally have school board candidates who have promised to prioritize families and students ahead of data, money, contractors, developers, consultants, political patronage and lobbyists. Candidates who understand that a community that cannot make its families and children happy — is not a community. Voters can finally show the cynical forces of greed, avarice, power and privilege that our schools, our children, our families are not for sale, that we are not cogs in their machine — and vote for Angela DiGaetano, Esther Hickman, Miles Warner and Stacy Rouse — to get the SMMUSD we have always deserved. 

Wade Major, Malibu