Education

Modesto City Schools chooses Map 3 to divide voter areas

Map 3: Made to follow elementary school zones, lumps central and west Modesto with the Airport District, with the south Modesto zone including everything below Paradise Road and the Tuolumne River. It splits northeast Modesto into two zones along Sylvan Avenue.
Map 3: Made to follow elementary school zones, lumps central and west Modesto with the Airport District, with the south Modesto zone including everything below Paradise Road and the Tuolumne River. It splits northeast Modesto into two zones along Sylvan Avenue. Modesto City Schools

The Modesto City Schools board put a priority on future growth as it divided the district’s large high school territory into seven trustee areas. The change to electing seats by neighborhood will start this November, deciding a majority of board seats.

The map chosen Monday has four trustee areas that will in large part represent Modesto City Schools elementary students, who make up more than half the district’s enrollment and mostly live in the city’s urban core. But the attribute that drew favorable comment from trustees was that no other map split the growing northeast area, making Map 3 the least likely to need major changes after the 2020 census.

The vote to pick Map 3 was unanimous. The choice of when each area would switch, however, split the board with a 4-3 vote, with trustees Steve Grenbeaux, Chad Brown and President Sue Zwahlen dissenting.

The timing of the election delays voting for representation of Area 7, covering the most densely Latino neighborhoods of south Modesto, until at least 2019. The move drew the only sharp disagreement of the night at the poorly attended special meeting.

Areas 1, 2, 3 and 5 will have elections in November. Areas 4, 6 and 7 will fill seats in 2019.

Members Amy Neumann and John Walker raised concerns that a race in November would prove too tight a time line for political novices. Trustees David Allan and Cindy Marks joined them in the vote.

“(Running) is expensive even if you do this cheap,” Walker said. “Having run an election, you sort of had to be thinking about this four, five, six months ago.”

But after the vote, Grenbaux questioned its wisdom. “So you’re saying that Area 7, which is a predominantly Hispanic area, will not be able to vote for a new person until, what, 2019? Is that the intent of this district? Is that our intent to eliminate this chance for a Hispanic to be elected. It’s what you just did,” he said.

So you’re saying that Area 7, which is a predominantly Hispanic area, will not be able to vote for a new person until, what, 2019? Is that the intent of this district?

Steve Grenbeaux

The long-awaited split comes nearly a decade after the city of Modesto became the first entity sued under the California Voting Rights Act over the issue of disenfranchising Latino voters. Modesto lost, as has every city and school district since, MCS attorney Roman Muñoz said during fall information sessions about creating trustee areas. It was advocacy by members of the Latino Community Roundtable that helped push most Stanislaus County districts to divide in recent years.

Modesto’s Map 3 has two other areas with large Latino communities that will move forward with races in November. Areas 2 and 5 are both represented by sitting trustees whose terms end this year. Area 5 stretches east, bisected by Yosemite Boulevard, encompassing the Empire Union School District and trustee Allan’s home.

Area 2, covering the college area and central Modesto, is home to Zwahlen, who faces re-election in November, and Amy Neumann, whose term ends in 2019. By proposing the switch of Area 2 and Area 7 for the 2019 election, Neumann in essence gave up her seat to give potential Area 7 candidates more time.

The four seats being elected in November will serve Areas 1, 2, 3 and 5, all with trustees whose terms end this year. Area 1 covers the Salida and Del Rio communities in north Modesto, where Marks lives. Neighboring Area 3, running north from Beyer High to include eastern Riverbank, includes Brown.

My intent was to give someone an opportunity in a predominantly Latino district to put together a campaign. It’s almost May.

Amy Neumann

The three seats that will wait until 2019 are Areas 4 and 6, both with sitting trustees whose terms end in 2019, and Area 7, which has no representative.

Area 4 serves the Naraghi Lakes and Enochs High areas of northeast Modesto, where Walker lives. Area 6 has a large western region covering Hart-Ransom, Shiloh and Paradise elementary districts, and nosing into central Modesto, including Grenbeaux’s home address.

National Demographics Corp. prepared the Modesto City Schools electoral maps, as it did for the city of Modesto when it split. President Douglas Johnson led explanatory portions of meetings leading up to the split.

There were four public forums to get feedback. Zwahlen went to each of them, seeing between one and four community members at each.

School board meeting regular and past candidate Rickey McGill was one of only three community members to attend the final vote Monday, and was the only person to offer a comment.

“How can we really, truly say the public had any input?” McGill said, “I still think community organizations should have been involved.”

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin

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