San Benito High School Board members continued their discussion regarding redistricting under the California Voting Rights Act at the March 14 meeting. First enacted by the state legislature in 2002, the law makes it easier for constituents to challenge discriminatory voting practices that would otherwise be difficult under the federal Voting Rights Act. If found in violation of the act, the school would have to pay substantial attorneys’ fees and agree to an appropriate remedy imposed by the court.
The agenda item was first introduced at the February 28 meeting by attorney William Tunik of Dannis Woliver Kelley (DWK). During public comment, community members and members of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) said current board members are not representative of the districts, the community and the current student population. While there was no immediate action taken at that meeting, the board asked for the item to be brought back for further discussion.
Board trustee William Tiffany opened the discussion by saying, “Perception of the way that the voting occurs at large, at the present time, ends up having certain areas of this county under-represented as compared to other areas. In looking at the statistics that LULAC brought forward, it was pretty clear that areas where there was a more predominance in Hispanic-Latino populations there was less representation on this board.”
“I think that before LULAC or some citizen comes 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 only 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,” he added.
Trustee President Steve Delay said he preferred to see what the cost of a demographer would be “before we went too far down the road.” He added that in some elections, everybody who ran for a seat on the board was from the same area. “There’s been no one who's run out of those areas now… someone’s going to have to decide how to select or how do we twist somebody’s arm to become a board member,” he said.
Trustee Patty Nehme, agreed with Delay’s comments adding that there needed to be a specification as to what would happen if someone didn't run from a certain district.
“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,” she said.
Trustee Juan Robledo said, “We’ll have some times where some district isn't going to have some vote but the way you draw the districts can guarantee that there is always somebody that is going to do it. The demographer can see where the people are and still manage to do it so that we do have interest.”
Request for Allowance of Attendance Due to Emergency Conditions
In other news, the board approved a waiver request for Allowance of Attendance due to emergency conditions — essentially meaning the school would receive funding for the day classes were canceled. The school was forced to cancel classes on February 17 because of a gas leak caused by stormy weather. If approved by the state, SBHS would receive funds from the daily revenue it gets from student attendance.
Raise for Teachers
Trustees also approved the ratification of a collective bargaining agreement between the San Benito High School Teacher’s Association that will give teachers a 4 percent raise.
Robledo said, “It’ll be a long time before we get this kind of raise again and I think that people need to know that — that this is a nice raise and the fact that we are able to sustain it. It’s one of those things where enjoy it because we don’t know what our future holds.”