Wanted: Four hard workers to attend frequent meetings that tend to drag on for hours, formulate educational and administrative policies, handle complaints, visit schools, find money. $240/month.
Serving as a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education is a tough, mostly thankless job, but that hasn't deterred the six candidates who will be competing for the four open seats in the Nov. 6 election. The lousy pay does not diminish the importance of the job, they say.
Only one candidate, Patricia Hoffman, is an incumbent. Three other openings come because member Robert Holbrook is running for the Santa Monica City Council and because board President Dan Ross and member Della Barrett, citing exhaustion, are not seeking reelection.
"I didn't know how wearing it would be," said Barrett, a two-term member, soon after announcing her decision not to run. It takes at least 20 hours a week "to do the job right," she said.
"While there are some really good moments," she said, there is also "a lot of blame, not much credit." The board faces "large problems with small resources, which can be very frustrating and disheartening."
Ross said that he didn't have enough time for his family, his law practice and his board duties, but will remain active in the schools.
The candidates take similar positions on many issues, such as the district's financial woes. School districts in California are funded primarily through the state, based on attendance. Enrollment in Santa Monica-Malibu, now 9,300 students, has declined over the past several years, which has meant less state money. The campuses have been neglected for so long that the board put a $75-million bond measure on the ballot in an effort to raise money to remove asbestos, repair plumbing and heating, modernize classrooms, and bring the buildings up to earthquake safety standards.
All six candidates say that parents, teachers, administrators and the community must lobby in Sacramento for increased financing.
Likewise, all six support the bond measure, Proposition ES, which requires approval by two-thirds of the voters to pass. The $75-million bond issue, if approved, would be the largest ever by a local school district in California, district officials say.
But the school board candidates all agree it is necessary because maintenance has been deferred for so long.
None of them blames the board for the decay. The district simply hasn't had the money for maintenance since Proposition 13 and a court decision that required equalizing funding among school districts, said candidate Michael Hill.
"If you don't maintain your buildings over 15, 20 years," a large sum is necessary to do the work, added candidate Pam Brady. "There is no gravy in that estimate."
Some of the candidates have forged loose alliances. Hill said he is planning some joint community meetings with Brady and incumbent Hoffman, and possibly with candidate Joanne Leavitt as well. The four have been endorsed by the Committee for a Responsive School Board, a 10-year-old group of parents, teachers and school employees that is affiliated with Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights. The committee plans to help the four candidates with publicity and fund-raising, committee treasurer Randi Johnson said.
Johnson noted that Brady is the first Republican that the committee has ever backed. "We don't want to say, 'You have to be a tenant activist Democrat to get on the school board,' " she said.
Brady leads in fund-raising, with $6,043 raised as of Sept. 30, according to campaign finance reports filed by the candidates. Hoffman has raised $1,344 and Hill $1,304. Candidate Brenda Gottfried said she has raised about $650, and Leavitt reported raising $535. The sixth candidate, Thomas Kayn, filed a statement saying he does not intend to raise or spend more than $1,000.
All of the candidates said they will comply with a new Santa Monica law that limits campaign contributions to $500, even though some said they believe they are not bound by that limit. County election officials have advised the school district that since the district is separate from the city, the board candidates are not subject to the city regulation but to the state campaign limits of $1,000.
Here is a brief look at the candidates and their positions on various issues. The candidates are listed in the order in which they will appear on the ballot.
Joanne Leavitt, who describes herself as a "community volunteer," is a former president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Council PTA. She also has served on several advisory committees to the district and is a former president of the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica/Malibu. She was honored by the board in 1988 for campaigning to pass a school-funding tax.
She says she believes the district can help itself improve its financial position by "better marketing of the schools," aimed at parents whose children now attend private schools or who are considering private schools.