Education

Modesto trustee split finalized – west side will wait

Modesto City Schools trustee areas finalized, Latino atea will wait

Speakers opposed the 2-year delay in representation for predominantly Latino south Modesto, Area 7, but the Stanislaus County Committee on School District Organization could not switch the election timing set by the Modesto City Schools Board and
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Speakers opposed the 2-year delay in representation for predominantly Latino south Modesto, Area 7, but the Stanislaus County Committee on School District Organization could not switch the election timing set by the Modesto City Schools Board and

Modesto City Schools’ split to trustee areas cleared its last hurdle in time for voters in the north, central and east areas of Modesto’s sprawling high school district to choose representatives later this year. Voters in the south and west, however, will wait until at least 2019 for an area seat.

That delay for Modesto’s heavily Latino west side drew more community voices than all six public hearings combined to Tuesday’s normally perfunctory final approval by the Stanislaus County Committee on School District Organization.

“We are working extremely hard to come together as a coalesced unity of community members to make sure we have a greater voice in our community,” said Rebecca Harrington, president of the nonprofit Latino Community Roundtable, “so to not allow Area 7 to have a candidate present in the 2017 election is unfathomable to me. I cannot believe anyone would think that was in the best interest of the community.”

It was the advocacy branch of LCR that pushed Stanislaus County school districts to switch to by-area elections starting in 2013. Modesto City Schools was the last school district of size to make the change, meant to comply with the California Voting Rights Act and make it easier for minority communities to elect trustees.

Noting the board now has no Latinos, Alfred Garcia of the Modesto chapter of the American GI Forum said, “You’re prolonging the situation where we continue to not be represented.”

I cannot believe anyone would think that was in the best interest of the community.

Rebecca Harrington

Area 7 will serve south Modesto, including the Bret Harte, Robertson Road and Crows Landing Road areas. The only area with no board member now living in it, Area 7 is 76 percent Latino, the highest concentration of any of the seven areas. The second-highest, 48 percent, is Area 6, also slated for its first election in 2019. Area 6 includes the west side north of Paradise Road, with Mellis Park with the King-Kennedy Memorial Center.

It also stretches into a portion of central Modesto where trustee Steve Grenbeaux lives, as well as a large swath of rural area served by Hart-Ransom, Shiloh and Paradise elementary districts. Grenbeaux, like trustees Amy Neumann and John Walker, will continue on the board as an at-large member until his term is up in 2019, when he could run for the Area 6 seat.

Grenbeaux dissented in the board’s 4-3 April 17 decision to delay Area 7’s vote, and repeated his criticism Tuesday. The decision was ostensibly made to give Latino candidates more time, he said, “I think that argument is specious. It’s arrogant. It’s elitist and it smacks of implicit bias.”

You’re prolonging the situation where we continue to not be represented.

Alfred Garcia

The five seats where a single trustee lives will be decided when that trustee’s term ends, timing never challenged by the board. The controversy comes from the delay for Area 7, where no trustee lives, created by a switch with Area 2, where Neuman and board President Sue Zwahlen live. With a 4-3 vote, the board approved a 2017 election for Area 2 and 2019 for Area 7.

The county committee members signaled sympathy for the Latino community’s position, but county lawyer Chet Quaide said the panel had no authority to change the April 17 MCS board decision.

Limited to approving the split, or missing the deadline for any areas to make the November ballot, the committee voted unanimously to move forward. Seats for Areas 1, 2, 3 and 5 will be voted on in November. Seats 4, 6 and 7 will be up for election in 2019 under the plan. A law requiring even-year elections if voting is significantly higher then could push the 2019 election to 2020.

Only one community member, retired school planner Henry Petrino, objected to Map 3’s dividing lines. Petrino raised the issue of representation for elementary students in Modesto’s urban core. The voting area being split covers Modesto’s younger campuses, plus seven other school districts that funnel into Modesto high schools.

In a fluke of the map, Downey High School on Coffee Road, which also pulls students from the very south of Modesto, will be represented by six of the seven trustees.

Trustees elected at large, Petrino said, represented all the kids. A split to areas, he argued, will create regions that have no vested interest in serving Modesto’s elementary schools, which include many of the lowest income schools in the district.

The map, chosen from among four prepared by National Demographics Corp., spreads Modesto City elementary schools primarily among trustees in Areas 2, 6 and 7. Area 1 roughly covers the Salida Union and Stanislaus Union elementary districts. Areas 3 and 4 will represent the Sylvan Union elementary district area. Area 5 includes a handful of Modesto schools, but will have the bulk of its voters in the Empire Union elementary district.

In a fluke of the map, Downey High School on Coffee Road, which also pulls students from the very south of Modesto, will be represented by six of the seven trustees.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin

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