In a race that has drawn little attention from voters, the three incumbents in the Nov. 8 election for the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education have joined forces in an effort to beat attempts by three challengers to unseat them.
The election features six candidates vying for three open seats on the 7-member board. Incumbents Peggy Lyons, Connie Jenkins and Mary Kay Kamath are facing challenges from first-time candidates Thomas N. Kayn, Carol Izad and Mark A. Borenstein.
Thus far, the issues in the campaign have failed to catch fire with many of the 60,000 voters in the Santa Monica and Malibu district. Fewer than 200 voters have attended the five forums held to allow candidates to thrash out their differences.
"The voters haven't been terribly enthusiastic," said Lyons, the 53-year-old board president, an educational research consultant who has served on the board since 1983. "It's like the national campaign. We are in an election malaise, and that's unfortunate. We have a system in this country which depends on participation. It's scary."
Shortage of Money
For almost a decade, the major underlying issue facing the district has been a shortage of money caused by a lack of state funds, a declining enrollment and the inability to raise taxes without a two-thirds vote approval by the electorate. This year, the district was forced to dip into its reserves by $1.2 million to balance its $41.8-million budget for the 1988-89 school year.
To help stabilize the district's sagging finances, a big push has been made to pass Proposition TT, a measure on the Nov. 8 ballot that would allow a 5-year extension of the current tax of $58 on each parcel of land in the district. All six candidates support the tax, which provides the district with an annual revenue of $1.6 million.
The measure is one of the few areas of agreement in the nonpartisan race, which has divided into two camps: those who are incumbents and those who are not. The top three vote-getters in the election will win 4-year terms. Thus far, most of the major community endorsements have gone to the incumbents.
Jenkins and Kamath are supported by Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, and Lyons, who is running as an independent, has received unofficial support from the renters group. The three are also backed by the teachers and classified employees unions, the National Women's Political Caucus, the Mexican American Political Assn. and the Santa Monica Democratic Club.
Challengers Kayn, Izad and Borenstein are backed by Concerned Homeowners of Santa Monica, a group of about 2,000 homeowners.
Throughout the campaign, Jenkins, Kamath and Lyons have stressed their record of performance as the main reason why they should be returned to office.
"We have had to make difficult decision about cuts and management," said Kamath, 55, who along with Jenkins has served on the board since 1981. "Now, having participated in the hard times, I'd like to share in some of the better times, such as making decisions about curriculum and other exciting programs."
Kamath, Jenkins and Lyons claim credit for improving the management of the district by hiring Supt. Eugene Tucker 2 years ago. They also point to an improvement in the district's financial standing and an upsurge in employee morale as accomplishments.
Not Enough to Raise Money
But challengers say the incumbents have not done enough to raise money and have become too involved in the daily operations of the district.
Borenstein, a 37-year-old attorney, has accused the board of a "lack of responsibility in financial matters." For example, he said the district would receive an immediate financial return if it moved more quickly to develop its surplus properties.
Five years ago, a consultant estimated that the district could earn $1.5 million a year from surplus properties it owned. However, the district has fallen far short of that amount, earning about $360,000 a year through various leases and rentals. Borenstein said the district has been particularly remiss in its failure to develop the Madison Elementary School site at 10th Street and Arizona Avenue.
Jenkins, a 43-year-old artist, defended the district's pace. "The community is sensitive to the issue of development," she said. "The community is in the middle of a real push to control development. We could create a lot of hostility in the community by (moving too quickly)."
As an attorney, Borenstein has developed a high school curriculum on law, counseled a national association of secondary school principals on dress codes and locker searches, and has worked with a cultural and education center for Latinos and Indians in East Los Angeles. He is also a former teacher.
Despite his credentials, Borenstein has been criticized because he has not been active in the Santa Monica-Malibu district, having attended only two school board meetings. "I don't