At its Nov. 26 meeting, the Hollister School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved a map that will shape the future of the district’s elections. All current members reside within the new boundaries set by the map and can run for reelection when their terms are up.
HSD is in the process of switching how it elects school board members from an at-large system—where candidates may reside anywhere within the district’s boundary—to a by-trustee area election system. The latter system divides the school district into designated trustee areas. From there, voters elect a school board trustee for each district, and trustees must live in the area they represent. HSD has operated as an at-large district since 1872.
Trustees selected one map from seven possible scenarios. Known as map #6, it divides the five trustee areas as follows:
In previous comments to BenitoLink, HSD Superintendent Diego Ochoa said the district received notice from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) that it was concerned about district elections. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) also announced that they were prepared to submit litigation against the district if the switch didn’t take place, Ochoa said. He spoke of LULAC’s involvement in the public input process.
“At the Nov. 6 community input session, we had representatives from LULAC at that meeting,” Ochoa said. “They asked me to pass along the feedback specifically stating maps 3 and 4 as preferred options, and map 6 as a somewhat acceptable option, but not preferred.”
BenitoLink asked San Benito LULAC President Richard Perez Sr. about the organization’s preference for maps 3 and 4.
“MALDEF did the voting age population numbers and was supportive of maps 3 and 4 because these scenarios have a better representation of Hispanic/Latino voters,” Perez said. “LULAC sees the demographics in maps 3 and 4 are more reflective of a diverse population.”
At the meeting, trustee Jan Grist said that map 6 was the best scenario and seemed like it would be “equally balanced.”
“The way it has worked out where each board member has their own district so we don’t have to worry about anything with elections, you know any of that nonsense, I just think it’s the fairest one. I look at the variance to me as the most important part. That’s why I will be voting for #6.”
Trustee Carla Torres-DeLuna asked Grist for an explanation of variance, “for my sake and anybody else’s sake, as basic as possible.”
Grist responded, “Well the way I understood variance, we are looking at parity in regards to the population. We are looking at the different ethnicities. So like in #6, the variance according to population is 0.75%. The higher you go, the larger the span is between variances and cultures. So, the closer we are, the closer we are in regards to culture. That’s how I looked at it.”
Board President Stephen Kain agreed with Grist.
“I pretty much looked at it the same way for map #6,” he said. “I had two criteria, I looked for the best variance and you’re right, #6 has the best variance. I also like 6 because again you have a different board member in each section. I do want to emphasize though, I don’t care what section you are elected into or you represent, once you are here you represent the entire district.”
Perez told BenitoLink that adoption of map #6 “can’t be just based on variances.”
“The board is choosing #6 because all of the board members are keeping their seats,” he said. “In essence they are gerrymandering the district so that there is no one in jeopardy of losing their seats. Looking at the adopted #6 map, we were not opposed, but we were not supportive, so our next step is to have another consultation with MALDEF to see if it’s actually representative of the demographics in the community.”
Torres-DeLuna said that the Hollister School District “has not represented the entire community,” specifically the west side where there are mostly chicanx/latinx predominant families.
“Now it’s changing demographically with all the housing, but still I think that’s one of the reasons why we need to move to [trustee area elections],” she said. “I think the individuals on this board have tried to be more mindful of the whole district, but historically that has not happened and that could happen again.”
While the trustee-area map was approved by the school board, it will need to be reviewed by the San Benito County Office of Education in January. From there, it will move on to the California State Board of Education for final approval in March. The first trustee-area elections are set to take place next November.
Trustee Elizabeth Martinez was absent from the Nov. 26 meeting.
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