CORRECTION: This story originally had an error in it regarding School Board candidate Jake Watchel. That error has been removed and corrected in this version of the story, as indicated in the article.
Seven candidates have now filed to fill the four seats left open this year for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education this November election. Three incumbents will battle to keep their places against four new challengers. A place on the Board of Education means partial power over a multi-million dollar budget and a potential stepping-stone for candidates with aspirations to higher offices.
The deadline ended Friday, Aug. 6 for candidates running for SMMUSD Board of Education election race.
Incumbents Barry Snell, Oscar de la Torre, and Ralph Mechur are all vying for seats. Snell has served on the board since 2006 and de la Torre was first elected in 2002. Mechur was appointed mid-term to fill a vacancy and voters allowed him a seat in the election two years ago.
The sole Malibu resident candidate is Pat Cady, a SMMUSD retired teacher and coach. Cady will be the first Malibu resident on the school board since Kathy wisnicki left in 2008.
Nimish Patel is one newcomer that has roots in budgetary matters as a member on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Financial Oversight Committee. Laurie Lieberman is the co-chair of LEAD, a new education advocacy group focused on Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability and Direction for SMMUSD.
Chris Bley has more than ten years teaching experience and is a current teacher at Brentwood School, a local and independent day school. An alumnus of Santa Monica High School, he also staffed three Democratic National Conventions between 1996 and 2004. He failed to secure a seat on the board when he ran two years ago.
Also running is Jake Wachtel, a Hollywood director and producer. CORRECTION: Watchel was originally reported in this story to not have garnered enough signatures to have made the list of candidates. That was erroneous, Wachtel, who is reported to have chosen a run for school board over a possible Santa Monica College Board of Trustees position and also serves on the journalism advisory board for Santa Monica College, is an official candidate.
Snell and Lieberman received backing from the highly influential de facto political group Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) at the party’s convention last weekend. Lieberman has seen great community support, especially with votes at the convention, for a fresh face on the board. Two more candidates could get support from committee the SMRR Steering Committee, if it chooses to.
But there’s a difference between an actual SMRR endorsement and simply getting support from the steering committee. Support from the committee means the candidate will be placed in campaign literature, but only endorsements will give full influence from the party in the months to come. De la Torre and Mechur fell short of the SMRR endorsement despite receiving nods in the past.
Controversy embroiled de la Torre last month when the Santa Monica Police Department filed a four-month investigation against him for child endangerment concerning two teens in a fight he witnessed. No charges were brought against the current school board member, but he admitted to the press that the incident will likely affect his candidacy.
The endorsements are based on a required 55 percent of votes from members. Anyone who pays the $25 fee can join the group. All seven current members sitting on the board had SMRR endorsements.
The Mirror will highlight each candidate and their issues in special election installments in the coming weeks.