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Indy Hosts the SBUSD School Board 7 in Round 2 Forum -- Round 1 Winners & Losers, Power Rankings

Voters in the Santa Barbara Unified School District can hear from all seven candidates for three Board of Education seats at one event when the Indy hosts a campaign forum on Thursday night (Sept. 24).

Delaney Smith, the newspaper's crack education reporter, will be asking the questions and moderating what passes for a political debate in the pandemic era, from 5-6:30 p.m. Register here to get the Zoom link for the event and get further info here about this and similar virtual affairs the Independent is sponsoring that feature candidates for the Goleta school board and SBCC board of trustees.

Plenty of free parking.

Three of the five board seats for the SB school board are on the Nov. 3 ballot and all seven candidates have confirmed they will participate in this 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.

The board has hiring and firing power over the superintendent, and recently recruited Hilda Maldonado from the L.A. Unified School District. She replaced Cary Matsuoka, who retired early from his contract amid a spate of high-profile controversies.that unfolded under the purview of Capps, Reid and Sims-Moten.

Newsmakers says check it out.

Best and worst of Round 1. The Indy event is the second -- and possibly the last -- time all the candidates are to appear together, although ballots won't even be mailed out until Oct. 5. (We hear San Marcos High School parents and teachers are trying to pull something together, and we'll let you know when and if we get confirmation about it, if there is an it).

Last week, a Zoom call sponsored by the Coalition for Neighborhood Schools drew all of the School Board 7, as well as an audience of more than 120, including a number of campaign consultants and other political hacks, as well as dozens of parents and other actual Real People.

Josh Molina posted a good play-by-play account of the affair on Noozhawk, and here's our look at seven key moments.

Virginia rocks her stats. School administrator Alvarez has framed her message around her data-based professional expertise and experience dealing with the complexities of California public education finance and policy matters, and underscored it by flashing a handmade graph on the screen to illustrate declining enrollment trends in answering a question about adding a new elementary school downtown. She also highlighted her bilingual skills when she spoke up to volunteer to translate for any Spanish speakers on the call, after moderator Lanny Ebenstein apologized for not providing such a service.

Monie calls out the patriarchy. Casting herself as the "commonsense candidate," de Wit finessed a high-profile issue that is among the most contentious the board has faced -- implicit bias training, which the board has enacted via a controversial non-profit called Just Communities. She said she supports the substantive goal of the program but took direct aim at Jarrod Schwartz, the group's longtime director and a polarizing figure for some parents: "An affluent white male who is an interpreting an experience" of people of color should not be leading the district's implicit bias project, she said.

Brian's burgers. Campbell is campaigning as a dad who's very active in his childrens' neighborhood schools and wants to address the district's problems in a practical way that cuts through the educratese and left-wing jargon of some controversial programs. Addressing the so-called Achievement Gap in test scores between white and Latino students, he recounted treating a group of his kids' friends at Hamburger Habit, and watching several struggle to read the menu, a small but telling scene that captured the reality of the problem in a down-to-earth way.

Wendy conquers Zoom. Sims-Moten and Reid, who share a political consultant, for the last four years consistently supported departed Superintendent Matsuoka in key decisions. Performing political ju-jitsu, she sought to make a virtue of her service as a member of the status quo by stressing the import of board "experience" at a time of pandemic crisis, deftly pivoting to the point by popping into Round 2 with a declaration of victory over Zoom after the app's technology had locked her out of the first round of questions: "Cool in a crisis," she announced herself.

Jackie channels Zumba. Like Sims-Moten, Reid faces the political task of differentiating herself in a field filled with challengers critical of her incumbency, a job made tougher by lapses into stilted edu-speak and critical race theory, a style which can sound to the uninitiated like it's translated from the Swedish. But she broke through with a nice improvisational answer to a question about the importance of art and music education, dunking on her colleagues' mundane responses (Wendy played the clarinet! Virginia played the violin! Laura's kid plays the piano!) by singing the praises of "innovative" math instruction via "Zumba dancing."

Elrawd trashes Adelante. MacLearn is running as a voice for conservative parents and the tribune of traditional, Three R's educational values, which sends hearts aflutter in precincts populated by old-school Fair Education SB types. With strong message discipline, he distinguished himself as the sharpest critic of the board, not only bashing the controversial Teen Talk sex ed program and the board's emphasis on bias training, but also attacking dual language Adelante charter school, a high profile symbol of the board's priorities: "What is going on at Adelante is not effectively teaching the children," he snapped.

Laura pushes back. Capps closed strong at the event, with a passionate and specific defense of every element of the board's progressive agenda that had been attacked by Elrawd and others, portraying the board's program as entirely appropriate for Santa Barbara values and the district's demographics. "We have one school in the entire district that is offering dual language immersion...Adelante is a magical place," she said. "Here we are in 2020, California. We live in a bilingual society. This is the future, like it or not for some of you. I embrace it."

This week's power rankings. Just under six weeks before the election, here is a totally subjective and data-free perspective on where the seven candidate race stands today, according to odds relayed by our Las Vegas Bureau Chief Anthony (Little Tuna) Frutti di Mare.

1-Laura Capps. Spurred by the urgency of the pandemic, she shook off the funk from losing a tough race for Supervisor, smoothly transitioning into a second full-bore 2020 campaign.

2-Wendy Sims-Moten. Amid the Black Lives Matter movement, she's played a high-profile role in the community conversation by co-chairing a special country forum about racism.

3-Jackie Reid. Many time-honored rules of local campaigning are out amid the pandemic, but sharing the Dem endorsement with Wendy and Laura still is a big organizational edge.

4-Virginia Alvarez. If the race was about professional qualifications alone, she'd finish first, but as a first-time hopeful needs to move quickly to match political assets of insider rivals.

5-Brian Campbell. He, de Wit and MacLearn compete for center-right voters as the four libs tussle on the left, and his recent council run and real estate connections help. Lose the hat.

6-Monie de Wit. Her personal story of struggles with dyslexia, both hers and her kid's, is powerful and moving but she needs to translate the jargon to own the literacy issue.

7-Elrawd MacLearn. A fresh-faced rookie, he's still a virtual unknown, but his message resonates with conservatives and he's shown flashes of talent in putting it across.

This just in. Our People finally have reached agreement with Their People, and Sims-Moten and Reid now are on the schedule for one-on-one interviews with Newsmakers TV. Those conversations will be upcoming and added to our archive of discussions with the other five candidates.

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.


Images: (Clockwise from upper left: Capps, Sims-Moten, Reid, Alvarez, MacLearn, Campbell, de Wit (SB Independent); Frame grab of Coalition for Neighborhood Schools forum (Noozhawk); Mug shots via Zoom or courtesy images; Power Rankings (Nascar); Breaking News (

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