Modesto City Schools board to discuss by-area elections

naustin@modbee.comSeptember 8, 2013 

    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin

— The Modesto City Schools board will take up by-area elections tonight, hearing a presentation by the firm Redistricting Partners on the topic.

Area elections are seen as a way to give minority voters better representation on local boards. No member of the Modesto board lives in the dense southwest quadrant of the district, where the majority of its minority voters live.

Candidates are running by area for the Stanislaus County Board of Education and seats on the Ceres, Oakdale and Turlock boards in November. A letter sent to county school districts earlier this year by a Latino advocacy group spurred a half-dozen conversions this spring affecting elections in 2014 or 2015.

The Latino Community Roundtable legislation team said it sent the letters to help districts avoid high legal fees as courts have unfailingly backed by-area elections. The Modesto City Council was the target of the first such local lawsuit in 2007, a losing battle that cost the city a $3 million settlement.

The detailed process of mapping voters by ethnicity and dividing into roughly equal areas also costs. The Turlock Unified School District estimated its switch added up to about $80,000. No estimate of potential cost for the sprawling Modesto district was given in agenda materials for tonight's meeting.

In financial news, the board will get an update on last year's budget numbers. The district saved some special-education dollars and received a bit more for attendance, but overshot salary and benefits projections by $10.5 million.

The net change was $7.8 million less in reserves than estimated, according to a report by Chief Business Official Julie Chapin.

Chapin notes that the state's new method of calculating attendance revenue, giving more for poor students and English learners, will benefit Modesto. With higher revenues expected this year, the district has reinstated instructional days, added teacher training and restored salaries to pre-recession highs.

In a largely symbolic change, board members also will consider raising their own salaries back to the pre-recession level of $750 a month. In 2009, trustees cut that to $688.75, mirroring employee cuts. Restoring board stipends would cost $5,310 per year.

The Modesto City Schools board will meet at 6 p.m. in the staff development center, 425 Locust St. The agenda is posted at

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at, (209) 578-2339, on Twitter @NanAustin,

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