More Opinion

OPINION: SBHS board is operating illegitimately

Board of trustees served notice of voting rights violation reminiscent of 1960s South

In a recent meeting of the San Benito High School Board, the trustees were served notice of the apparent discriminatory voting practices in effect — at-large elections — in this case, four members are from a single district. Advised of the clear violation by attorney William Tunik, a prima facie or an “open and shut” case exists that the current board is illegal and illegitimate. As such, the current board not only does not represent the predominantly Latino high school student body, but is operating without legal authority, as it is in violation of California’s Voting Rights Act.

Made aware of the board’s unlawful and illegitimate status, two trustees replied by making comments that reminds us of the standard xenophobic responses from back-in-the-day — that qualified candidates could not be identified or willing to run for elected office.

It is unbelievable that in this day and age (so-called progressive California) we have a supposed elected school board — under a cloud of illegitimacy — espousing and promoting language so reminiscent, if not exact in intent, to comments made by the likes of George Wallace and Bull Connor of 1960's South. What is more, by suggesting that local Latino citizens and parents, by exercising their rights and raising legitimate legal concerns are outside troublemakers, is at a minimum disturbing and insensitive, if not outright hidebound.

The comments of the following board members, in response to learning of the violation of the voting rights act, are offensive, elitist, self-serving (protecting ill-gained posts) and racially loaded – expressing publicly a prevailing mindset distasteful to the majority of this community.

Patty Nehme’s statements could not be more racially condescending, offensive and insulting to the Latino community of Hollister, when she stated: “I’m totally for districting and making sure that we’re equally representative, but I do have a concern that if there is a lack of will in certain areas there is some sort of fail safe in place that would either take the next popular vote or something to that effect that would save us from twisting an arm or trying to find some Schmoe off the street to come in and represent who doesn’t really want to or has a vested interest in the school.” 

William Tiffany statement: “I think that before LULAC or some citizens come forward and gives us one of these letters where we have to decide what to do next, I think the responsible thing to do and I hope the right thing to do in looking at fair representation throughout the county, would be for us as a board to start looking at hiring a demographer and start the next step toward creating district elections.” 

Not only is the school board in outright violation of the law, but it does not represent the makeup and prevailing interests of the predominant population of the City of Hollister which stands at 69 percent Latino — most notably the 3,000 predominantly Latino students of San Benito High School.

All this is the result of the good ol' boy network of the dominant minority group, their families, friends and associates that control — like the former Apartheid South Africa — the politics of Hollister at the expense of the subordinate majority.

LULAC and Hollister citizens/parents (those outside agitators and trouble-makers) are on solid legal ground to bring about an equitable redistricting; fair and equal representation on the school board! As such, the potential plaintiffs with legal standing (parents) need to proceed with all due diligence in nullifying the existing illegal board, and bring about more community representation to the politics of the city.

More importantly, the potential plaintiffs' attorney needs to urgently file a motion for a restraining order against the school board — to stay and protect from any deleterious and retaliatory action, any pending and future expenditures, that would cause long-lasting and irreparable harm; while limiting and tying the hands of a legally-elected community representative school board.

Moreover, the call for a demographer would be an illegal expenditure — in light of the cloud of illegitimacy that hangs over the current board — and a self-serving act.


BenitoLink Logo

Become a Member Today

Support your local independent news.

We work hard to give you the news and information you need. By becoming a member, you will be part of something bigger; BenitoLink, your community-supported news source.


Luis Burguillo (An Engaged and ...)

As a student of the media and journalism, I am interested in utilizing the medium in order to assure that the residents of the City of Hollister and San Benito County are alerted, informed and educated on the official actions of their elected officials who are sworn to preserve, protect and defend the US constitution and Bill of Rights. More importantly, their engagement in the political process will hold the leaders accountable for their actions/decisions and lead to an improved governance.


Submitted by (Lisa Marks) on

While perhaps you have a point about needing more equal representation on the school board, I believe you are making some pretty big assumptions of the motives and characters of the board members you quoted in this article. It was not a requirement to have candidates from any particular demographic or district area when applying for open board positions. Why demonize people who are trying to support and possibly improve the district?

Ms. Marks,

While I agree with you completely that there is no requirement and should be no requirement that candidates be from any particular demographic, there is a legal requirement that the service area be properly districted to represent the population fairly and that boards not be "stuffed" (my term) with at-large members.

I believe that anyone can represent me fairly who represents my views regardless of their race, color, creed, etc.  Likewise, there is no reason I cannot represent a Hispanic or anyone else if they support me to do so (I'm not running here, just speaking).  It is unfortunate that there are many in both camps who do not see it that way,

There is a history of serious and long-standing discrimination in much of California, especially in the agricultural areas. The Voting Rights Act was put in to help prevent the de facto discrimination that is so often held over in these areas,  The board certainly knows that this is against the law - after all they all hold themselves out as educated and informed people (not schmoes like me - did she really say that?).  They have not changed until now because no one has forced them to comply with the law - inertia.

Now, it is wrong to oppose the hiring of a demographer, it is an absolute necessity to correct the problem; however one can save a lot of money and confusion if they can find properly drawn districts used for other purposes and get those re-certified by a demographer.

It's amazing how many people claim to be liberals or conservatives until the problem is in their backyard and they are put to the test.

Marty Richman

Submitted by (Jim Bonnet) on

I always enjoy reading your writing. Thank you for taking the time to do what you do.

Maybe I am oversimplifying the issue. If the problem is not enough ethnic diversity on the board wouldn't that issue be solved by encouraging the folks who are not represented to actually run for the election? Im certain that the hiring of a demographer would indicate what the author of the opinion piece states(lack of diversity) Save the money encourage more people to run. It doesn't seem that difficult. By the way, if people in the community don't actually VOTE. Shame on them.

My struggle with this article is the people who ran for the seat(s) want to help. I don't think any one of them has ill intentions to suppress a particular group of people. They are educators and business people that are volunteering their time. We shouldn't overlook that.

Jim Bonnet

Thanks Jim,

I am NOT promoting diversity, in fact I'm just tired of the word altogether; in my opinion the whole concept is being abused and misused,  What I am saying is that eliminating at-large seats and redistricting per the Voting Rights Act is designed to give various population representatives a fair chance at being elected.  More importantly, the current (and previous) boards certainly knew they were in violation and should not have waited until threatened with a lawsuit to start fixing it.  That does not show good faith.

I don't know where the current board members live, perhaps they can all run again after redistricting (although I doubt it), nor did I say they were doing a bad job, I'd be glad to have that conversation another time.   

However, if the quote about "any schmo" is accurate, it shows an elitist, disdainful attitude toward the general public that just goes to prove exactly what the board is being accused of.  There are plenty of dedicated and competent Joe and Jane Schmoes out there and you do not have to be a puppet of the Teacher's Union or have a degree in education to do a good job on a school board.

It's a power position, they get to make important decisions regarding both education and all the money that goes with it - don't forget that last part.  Anyone in the community who wants to run should have a fair chance to win based on their ability and representation - a bunch of at-large seats are designed to stuff the ballot boxes, which is exactly the opposite of a fair chance.  That's my point.

Marty Richman.

Submitted by San Benito High School Teachers Association (teachers Association) (San Benito High...) on


You use the term "puppet" to describe a board member while complaining about her use of the term "schmoe". I agree with you that derogatory terms are unfair and should not be used. Why don't you stop and set a good example?

I am very happy that you accepted my challenge and Mr. Tennenbaum's invitation to visit SBHS and correct your misconceptions. I understand that you enjoyed your visit and have come to understand that the high school is more complex and vibrant than your simplistic characterizations.  Mr. Tennenbaum and I shared a common goal: to have you visit the campus and subsequently treat us fairly in your frequent commentary. Does that make one of us the puppet of the other?

     Trustee Nehme shares the teacher's and administrator's goal of making SBHS the best it can be. She seeks out our input and asks for our feedback.  As anyone well versed in educational research knows, the teacher is the key to student success.  Why would you denigrate a board member who has made it a priority to work with teachers for needed change by calling her a "puppet"?  Watch the board meetings in their entirety.  You will see all the trustees working really hard, along with teachers and administrators, to make the best decisions for our community; does that make them all puppets?  We are proud of Patty and her many vibrant ideas and suggestions and proud of the way our current board has been inclusive and responsive to all stakeholders.    



Ms. Foster (I assume it's is you, you did not sign your comment) ,

I find it passing strange that you take so much offense over the word puppet but hardly mentioned the Schmo comment by one of your members on the board.  What is more insulting, a union member who would never vote against a union being called a puppet or a board member calling the general public Schmoes and clearly implying they are too stupid to run the High School?

I remind the public, Ms. Foster's first priority is her members, not the education of your children and the above shows it.  It is fair to ask whose interests the Union President would put first.  Why has Ms. Foster supported keeping an at-large election system that she certainly knew was in violation of the Voting Rights Act?

Ms. Forster, since I did not discuss my observations with you personally or in public, readers should be especially suspicious of your second hand account or my opinions ..I had some critical comments based on WHAT I SAW especially the money spent in the gym - you conveniently left those out - and I am still dissatisfied with the school's continued inability to even reach the state averages on SAT scores.  Those are called results.

I did not go on the tour to get into running fight on campus, I will not be satisfied until the school's academic performance shows substantial improvement. (p.s. If you were going to send someone merely to stooge for you, you should have warned me, can I get a copy of the tape? lol.)

Marty Richman

An open letter -

Dear Mr. Tannenbaum,

Please pass this email to the members of your administration and the Board of Trustees.

I thank you for your tour of the San Benito High School Campus, you and your staff were gracious and helpful; however I am dismayed that Ms. Katherine Foster, the President of the Teachers. Union – who was not on the tour – seems to believe she knows exactly what I said and exactly what I was thinking and posted that on BenitoLink.  Even had she been there it’s obvious that a tour of an hour-and-a-half cannot cover all the issues relating to the school and especially the school’s poor long-term academic record.

As far as I know she is not a member of the administration and not on the Board of Trustees and that was one of the reasons I did not accept her invitation for a tour and did accept yours.  If my memory serves neither did we discuss the issue of the board make up and the Voting Rights Act at all, nor should we; it would have been inappropriate,

She wrote – “I am very happy that you accepted my challenge and Mr. Tennenbaum's invitation to visit SBHS and correct your misconceptions.”

That's baloney, I want to make it clear that I do not believe I have any misconceptions and I did not accept any challenge from Ms. Foster, I accepted your invitation.

Marty Richman

Luis, please read my comment above to see where I stand.

Demographers are bound to do their job in accordance with the law and in my experience they take that responsibility VERY seriously. You must have a demographer to solve this problem and get good districts that represent the residents, the demographer's district recommendations will have detailed statistics to support their study and this will all be on the public record.

The key here is to move along with deliberate speed and fix it.

If the board attempts to negate the demographer they are subject to lawsuit.

"It's not a conspiracy of you're the only one not in on it." lol

Marty Richman


Submitted by (Concerned SBHS ...) on

I am a current student at SBHS and this issue has piqued my interest. I don't hold any resentment towards the current school board, in fact I do like the renovations occurring now because of them. However the possibility that our school board spends the Measure M funds illegally raises a question of ethics in my mind. They may not be a bad school board, but if we allow them to continue to function in violation to the law.... It ends with the question of what we as a community hold ourselves to. I ask for a clarification of how the current school board DOES NOT violate the Voting Rights Act, using the Voting Rights Act's content as the basis.

Steve Leal (I am waiting for my account to be accepted by the admin, sorry for any confusion)

Submitted by San Benito High School Teachers Association (teachers Association) (San Benito High...) on

   Everyone can watch the San Benito High School board meetings on You Tube.  You will see that our board is made up of highly dedicated, concerned, thoughtful, and informed members.  They are a great balance of skills and experience. They work really hard to represent all interests of our community.  They look out for our students as completely as we could ever hope for a board to do.

     As for Mr. Burguillo's comments, the teachers of SBHS are in favor of doing whatever is necessary to ensure that we are in compliance with the law.  We have been fortunate to have always had some diversity on our board, and to have had concerned citizens from all groups take on the challenge and commitment to try to make SBHS the best it can be over the years.  Our board would reflect our community in all ways, racial, ethnic, economic and gender, in a perfect world.  Districting is an opportunity for people to have a local representative, someone they may know, who is geographically close and can bring forward the issues specific to the smaller community.  Teachers support this.

     The concern that districting may leave us with too few candidates on the ballot is real.  It has happened in the past and it has been the teachers that have taken the initiative to seek out qualified candidates and to encourage them to run.  We know that having a diverse, well qualified board is in our student's best interest and we would continue to work to reach out to community members to become involved.  Our ultimate goal is to have the diversity that matches our community, and to be guided by people that can best help us meet the needs our all our students.

Katherine Foster

A little honesty would go a long way.  The Teachers Union would like to control the school board so they can set their own wages, benefits, work rules and spending priorities as much as possible.  Failing that they would like to have a strong influence on the board for the same reasons.  Other groups also have self interests.  Those, in themselves, are not a crime.  How they go about doing it may be a crime.

By having at-large candidates, the voters (typically) can pick from multiple choices school district wide which means that they get more than one vote,  In other words, the same voters can elect multiple board members.  If the majority of the teachers live in one part of county they can still elect a large portion of the board if they vote as a bloc freezing out the other voters.

That is why the Voting Rights Act was enacted, just to prevent that form of abuse.  Violating the Voting Rights Act is a crime.  All they have to do is fix it, these speeches about qualified candidates are ridiculous.  The election laws, campaigns and people's votes decide who is a qualified candidate; not me, not the board and not the union.  We can just give our opinion, that's all.

This a also a reflection of a two-tier ideas of fairness; we're breaking the law, but you know we're all good folks with the best intentions so it doesn't matter.

Well, it does matter.  Isn't  there a single teacher or board member in this entire system with a sense of honor willing to just stand up and say, this is wrong and we need to fix is ASAP rather than just keep making weak excuses and meaningless explanations?

Marty Richman


This is not an item for the Grand Jury - there is no way that the members of the High School board were "blindsided", as you put it, by the requirements of the Federal or CA Voting Rights Act which has a history right here in Hollister.  I assure you they knew perfectly well they were in violation, this is not some obscure law about jaywalking on Sundays.  All over the nation, all over California, as close as Gavilan College and Hazel Hawkins Hospital and as recently as a year or two ago they had the EXACT same problem.

Where have these highly qualified members of the board been living, in a vacuum packed jar of peanuts?  They can argue that they hate that law, but they can hardly claim ignorance.  The strategy has been we will continue to do what we want until forced to follow the law.  That is a lot of things, but it is not leadership by example, respect for the law or minority rights.  Statements about qualifications are the worst kind of paternalism.

Do you really believe that the school's lawyer - and they certainly have one at least through the county Board of Ed - did not know they were in clear violation of the Californian Voting Rights Act? Oh, come on.  I do not hear a single board members claiming they did not know; if they do I'd like to get it under oath.

The California Voting Rights Act addresses at-large seats amd racial polarization specifically;

Here is a primer -

Marty Richman

Submitted by (Chinga chavin) on

So, file suit. The political entrenchment at SBHS is significant and simply writing editorials and having Marty tour the high school isn't going to amount to much. File suit. If it is an 'open and shut case' all the better. Surely someone in the latino community will take this up, right? If not, some right minded benefactor who has someone in the schools? As for districting, why not just use the maps they use for commissioners? save the 100K for a demographer. Nothing will happen without legal action...

Add new comment

Add Facebook comment

Comment using your Facebook account. Facebook comments will be published on this page, and on Facebook. It will not be posted to the "Recent Comments" list on the BenitoLink front page.