Education

Modesto school board will revisit delay of Latino area election

Rebecca Harrington, president of the Latino Community Roundtable, protests the delay in voting for Area 7, the most heavily Latino of the seven Modesto City Schools trustee areas, at the final hearing for the process in front of the Stanislaus County Committee on School District Organization, in Modesto, CA, on April 25, 2017.
Rebecca Harrington, president of the Latino Community Roundtable, protests the delay in voting for Area 7, the most heavily Latino of the seven Modesto City Schools trustee areas, at the final hearing for the process in front of the Stanislaus County Committee on School District Organization, in Modesto, CA, on April 25, 2017. naustin@modbee.com

Facing community backlash and a legal threat, the Modesto City Schools Board will revisit the election timing of its newly created trustee areas, which as it stands would leave solidly Latino south Modesto without representation until 2019.

A special board meeting will be called for 5:30 p.m. May 11 in the Locust Avenue staff development center to consider the issue, Superintendent Pam Able confirmed Wednesday. Trustees will meet with their attorney at 5 p.m. in closed session.

Latino Community Roundtable President Rebecca Harrington said she received word of the meeting Wednesday morning from her attorney, Robert Rubin of San Francisco. Harrington said she contacted Rubin because he worked on the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit first brought against the city of Modesto.

“Trust me, I am going to be on this,” Harrington said.

Trust me, I am going to be on this.

Rebecca Harrington

Modesto lost that precedent-setting lawsuit, as has every town and school district sued since under a provision requiring voting by area if at-large elected seats disenfranchise minority groups. The advocacy arm of the Latino Community Roundtable pushed Stanislaus County school districts to switch to areas in 2014.

Modesto City Schools was among the last to switch, choosing the geographic areas and setting election dates April 17. A county committee approved them April 25, despite community speakers lambasting the board’s delay of both districts representing the most heavily Latino areas of the city.

“That was my whole bone of contention. It wasn’t the map. I have no problem with the map,” said Harrington, who was among the speakers.

Modesto City Schools serves more than 15,000 elementary students from central, south and west Modesto, and another 15,000 high schoolers from seven other elementary districts.

Area 7 covers south Modesto, which is more than three-quarters Latino and is the only area with no current trustee living within its boundaries. Area 6, nearly half Latino, covers west Modesto, a bit of central Modesto where trustee Steve Grenbeaux lives, and rural areas to the west.

Both, under the plan now in place, will wait to elect until at least 2019, as will Area 4, a largely white and Asian area in north Modesto. Areas 1, 2, 3, and 5, covering sections in the north, east and center of Modesto, will seat by-area trustees in the next election in November.

The district will likely need to move to even-year elections before 2022, which requires a change to its city charter. It is not clear if that would further delay the vote for Areas 4, 6 and 7.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin

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