SB School Board Race: Candidate Forum Set for Thursday

By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

Lanny Ebenstein, former school board member, community activist and public intellectual, on Thursday night will moderate the first candidate forum in the seven-way race for the SB Board of Education.

The online event, sponsored by the Coalition for Neighborhood Schools, is scheduled for Thursday, September 17 — from 7-8:30 p.m.

The affair will be conducted via Zoom:

“All are invited to attend and participate,” the coalition said in a press release. “To receive a Zoom link, pleas email: and put ‘RSVP to Candidates’ Forum’ in the subject line. 

Plenty of free parking.

State of play.

Three of the five board seats for the Santa Barbara Unified School District are on the Nov. 3 ballot and all seven candidates have been invited to the forum.

Among the field are three current board members — Laura Capps, Jackie Reid and Wendy Sims-Moten — who took office automatically after the 2016 election because they were the only ones who signed up to run, and now seek new four-year terms. Montecito school administrator Virginia Alvarez, literacy advocate Monie de Wit, realtor Brian Campbell and county health inspector Elrawd MacLearn all are campaigning actively for the board.

To the extent that such a thing is possible in the pandemic era anyway.

As a financial matter, serving on the board is not particularly lucrative: members receive a $450 monthly stipend for attending twice-monthly meetings; in between they read and study staff-written materials about sometimes complex agenda items, which they also may or may not independently research; communicate with parents and other stakeholders via phone and email; participate in various school and district activities, while washing windows with their third hand.

The board has hiring and firing power over the superintendent, and recently recruited Hilda Maldonado from the L.A. Unified School District to replace Cary Matsuoka, who retired early from his contract amid a spate of high-profile controversies.

What’s on the agenda.

The Coalition for Neighborhood Schools has been active for 20 years and “focuses on creating broad-based support for school improvement,” the group said in its invitation to the event.

Alice P. Post, a founding member of the organization, wrote that the group’s mission is “to provide neighborhood elementary school facilities in the downtown area of Santa Barbara.” In an essay recently posted on Edhat Post said that:

“Neighborhood schools create a number of significant community benefits.   Neighborhood schools promote healthy activities because students can walk to school rather than being forced to ride in cars.

Neighborhood schools promote community because students remain close to home, parents are more easily able to monitor their activities, and parents are more likely to interact and associate with other parents in the same neighborhood. 

In a downtown area, neighborhood schools result in stable property values, and promote downtown residential property ownership.   Such schools also promote diversity and inclusion, as students interact with other students from different cultures.”

Lanny Ebenstein

The eclectic economist.

Ebenstein, a familiar figure active in a host of city and county issues, is the author of 10 books, an economist and lecturer at UCSB. He previously served eight years on the SB school board.

Among the questions he will pose to the candidates:
  • Do they believe every elementary student should be able to walk to school?

  • Would they support consideration of moving the District’s administrative offices and maintenance facility from their current location to allow another downtown elementary school?

  • What models of language instruction do they favor?

  • How would they expand music and art education?

There will also be questions allowed from the floor, according to the coalition.

The only other currently scheduled candidate forum in the race is sponsored by the Independent. Set for September 24, it will be moderated by the paper’s indefatigable Delaney Smith.

P.S. For reasons that remain mysterious, Reid and Sims-Moten continue to duck sit-downs with Newsmakers, but we have done one-on-one, 30-minute interviews with each of the other five candidates, which you can watch via these links:

SBUSD board president and 2020 candidate Laura Capps is here.
SB realtor and candidate Brian Campbell is here.
Photographer and literacy advocate Monie de Wit is here.
School administrator Virginia Alvarez is here.
Health inspector Elrawd MacLearn is here.


Written by Jerry Roberts

“Newsmakers” is a multimedia journalism platform that focuses on politics, media and public affairs in Santa Barbara. Learn more at

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  1. Can we substitute a question about the budget short falls, declining enrollments and substandard student outcomes for the one about more arts and music instruction? Closing downtown schools was part of a federal de facto desegregation law suit decades ago. How would mandated diversity enrollment numbers play out today, if a downtown school were re-opened in light of that past settlement order? Plus, have we settled the phonics vs whole language reading skills debate yet?

  2. I would like to know how we can expect our schools to improve achievement when they have become the default institution to address all of society’s ills- hunger, homelessness, broken families, poverty, etc? Seems like a very difficult job.

  3. Teachers unions own the school board negotiation process and a super-majority of state legislators, who write the Ed Code. Best bring up your points with the teachers unions, who do have an outsized say about what happens within our Calif K-12 system. Otherwise, this list of complaints sound like more excuse making. The levers of power are well-within the hands of the very powerful California Teachers Association to correct all of this. Why are they still sitting on their own hands? Teachers should demand to get something in return for their $1000 a year teacher union dues or opt out and find some other way to get what they need to bring education back to education. Or else drastically change teacher training programs in this state so they finally enhance the actual education experience of our students. Agree, K-12 is a headless monster devouring endless tax dollars and producing critically nothing of measurable value in return.

  4. Hats off to EdHat for providing unbiased fair reporting and tells it like it is.
    Shame on Noozhawk who twisted every word of the challengers for School Board Elwawd McLearn, Moni De wit and Brian Campbell.
    They embellished the ” 3 sisters’ the incumbents that need to go that have lead this district into further decline.
    Big thanks to Coalition for neighborhood schools for being gutsy enough to host an unbiased forum.
    Request a recorded copy if you missed it or join their email list at

  5. Yes thru the grapevine I heard that that incumbents Wendy Sims Moten and Jacqueline Reid were very hard to get to commit to the CNS forum and they had to chase them quit a bit thru their campaign manager who had previously been Greig Hart’s campaign manager. Hmm……

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