Hollister School District Superintendent Diego Ochoa ran into some opposition after telling the Board of Trustees on July 23 that he wanted to volunteer to work on an organizing committee for the 2020 Census alongside city and county representatives.
Ochoa told the board he wanted to discuss how the school district, San Benito County and Hollister are preparing for the census. He said he had been contacted about involving the district in promoting the importance of the census and that he had already attended a meeting at Hartnell College to plan how to move forward with the other agencies.
“It was eye-opening to see the number of organizations throughout California gearing up to address what’s known as the HTC, or hard-to-count populations,” Ochoa said. “In the process of preparing for the census, the state is already aware of which neighborhoods are comprised of families that did not participate in the last census.”
Ochoa said there are consequences for a community that doesn’t accurately count everyone. Services, funding and representation can all be adversely affected, he said. He told the board he would like to serve on the committee and attend regular census meetings. He wanted to use his position as superintendent to help promote it, especially as a Spanish speaker who can appear on Spanish radio stations in order to “encourage our families to participate in the census in such a way that they hear a voice that is familiar and trusted and is likely to create a sense of awareness.”
Some population groups, including immigrants, have historically shied away from participating in the census. Between 2000 and 2017, the refusal rate has doubled, but overall the rate has remained below 3%.
Ochoa said that at a future board meeting he would present a detailed plan as to how the school district can help support the census.
Trustee Jan Grist said the census is important to San Benito County and there is a need to destigmatize the fear of being counted. She said the district needs to open its facilities to allow people to take part in the census online.
Trustee Rob Bernosky objected to Ochoa diverting his time away from running the elementary school district in order to be involved in the census.
“We’re an academic institution and we hired a superintendent to run a school district,” Bernosky said, adding that he did not want to see Ochoa’s time diluted and to remain focused on the needs of the district.
Bernosky said he thought the Census Bureau itself should focus on the 2020 Census. He said he understood what Ochoa wanted to try to accomplish, but he was not prepared to endorse him spending time on the census rather than the school district and its campuses around Hollister.
“There’s only so many hours in the day and only so much intellectual capacity that can be expended during the day,” he said.
Grist said she looks at cooperating with the census as an opportunity to bring money into the county that would be used to better serve the students. Bernosky responded that the county and Hollister have a boards serving them. HSD Board President Stephen Kain concurred with Bernosky.
“There’s so many other things I’d like him to be working on,” Kain said, “and you’re right Rob, that’s what county supervisors are for. That’s really money coming to them first. We already know what it’s like to deal with the county or the city about funds and what’s due to us. I don’t know. I’m ambivalent on this, honestly.”
When Grist continued to support the idea of cooperating with the census by allowing the use of HSD facilities, Kain responded that he would be more than happy to open up schools, but he wasn’t in favor of volunteering.
“Let them ask us,” he said.
Ochoa wasn’t deterred by Bernosky’s and Kain’s concerns.
“I’ll add an expected time contribution so the board has an idea what the involvement in one activity might require as part of the process,” he said.
Ochoa sought to reassure the board that he understood his responsibilities to the district.
“When an investment of time is made, as the superintendent of the district, I never allow it to impinge on my responsibility to impact teaching and learning,” he said. “I look at it as an opportunity to strengthen our reputation in the community among local agencies. At the same time, I think the suggestion that it not distract from the goals of the district is absolutely on target. Mr. Bernosky’s concern is heard and agreed upon. When I present to the board I’ll present options and I’ll give time expectations for each one.”
Bernosky maintained that the greatest impact the district could have on the community and in building relationships with agencies was through education and keeping kids “out of the judicial system and off welfare.”
“We all know when you educate a child’s mind it has unlimited potential,” Bernosky said. “When you chose the career path that you did in education, that’s where your power is and I encourage you to use that power appropriately.”