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'Curious' Allen Chosen New Board President

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified board votes in Santa Monica High School alumnus Ben Allen as its president.

The man with a big vocabulary and lots of "intellectual curiosity" was named president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education on Thursday night.

Ben Allen, 33, an alumnus of , stepped into the head seat with unanimous support, replacing longtime board member José Escarce.

"I'm filled with energy and excitement," said Allen, reading from a prepared statement. "I'm humbled and sobered by the challenges we face."

A new president is elected by the board each year. Allen received the only nomination Thursday night. 

The board's new vice president, Laurie Lieberman, lauded Allen for his "openness to new ideas and different points of view."

Allen, elected to the board in 2008, is an adjunct law professor at UCLA who said that at some point he might consider a run for state office. He lives in Santa Monica.

"He's pretty smart, and he is pretty argumentative, and he is trained as a lawyer," Escarce said of Allen, who until Thursday was the board's vice president.

All of these traits combined made for colorful discussions when setting agendas for board meetings, Escarce said. "We had conversations at hours when people shouldn’t be talking ...  My wife would wake up and say, 'Who are you talking to? Oh, I know; it's Ben!'"

Allen forecast that in his term as president, the board will continue grappling with continued budget woes wrought by the state, the primary funding source for California's K-12 schools;  and .

Outgoing president Escarce was commended for his handling of these issues during his term, too. Primarily, however, board members said they see as his legacy the passage of a new PTA fundraising model.

The . It blocks individual school PTAs from raising money to fund extra personnel and programs; such funding will now be centrally handled by the district's nonprofit education foundation.

"You have influenced my thinking and the way I see life … in a positive manner," said Board member Nimish Patel. "Your calmness, your stability—it's very comforting."

"You've been a leader the entire time," Board member Ralph Mechur said of Escarce's 11 years on the board. 

dave cook August 21, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Ben may have the aptitude, when he shows it, but there is too little experience to justify this appointment. It is more of a abdication or indication of sclerosis with the other members of the board.
James Tarabello September 28, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Ben is a smart, impressive, thoughtful guy who listens to everyone and is an incredibly committed public servant. He has an incredible amount of experience for someone of is age, and I'm one of many who is grateful that he's so committed to serving the community.

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