Dean Welliver, News Report
On Monday evening the Kern High School District Board of Trustees unanimously voted to present the Plan 3 trustee area redistricting map to the Kern County Committee on School District Organization this Thursday May 24.
This decision follows a two month process of public input sessions, board meetings, and presentations on possible maps from both Kern High School District contracted demographers and the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
The Kern High School District demographer developed five different versions of proposed boundary changes. The Dolores Huerta Foundation demographer proposed one map in April and proposed a new version of that map to the board on Monday night.
Trustees Jeff Flores and Mike Williams expressed a desire to evaluate the maps proposed by the Foundation but decided to vote on the previously proposed maps due to limited scheduling availability with the Kern County Committee on School District Organization and the desire to implement new trustee area boundaries this year.
“This new map presented we haven’t had time to examine it. It might be the best plan. There are some things I see that I disagree with off the bat. It might have problems and be incorporated into a 4th map, but if we go ahead and consider this new map then it may delay this action and may not be implemented within 2018,” said Williams.
Community residents in support of the Dolores Huerta Foundation maps had a common message for the KHSD board to ‘value all voices’ throughout the redistricting process and echoed that message strongly on Monday night.
“I am here to hopefully get your attention because we are in favor of the map that the DHF will be presenting because we want a representative who lives near us and knows our need and knows exactly what we need as a community and not as a general community so I ask that you listen to our voices,” said Diana Mirales, a member of the group United Communities which represents Arvin, Lamont, Greenfield, and Weedpatch.
Community members from South Kern have also taken issue with three of the five incumbent trustees, Joey O’Connell, Mike Williams ,and Phillip Peters, living in Northwest Bakersfield an advantage that critics claim give parents and students in Northwest communities more representation than communities in the rest of the county.
“The KHSD currently has the majority of the board members living up in the North West it is unfair to have one community one area of the community make the decisions that affect the whole community,” said Jose Gonzalez, the president of the Greater Lamont Chamber of Commerce.
In their final statements before voting for Plan 3 the Trustees addressed these criticisms.
“I want to address the argument that there are three members from the North West and that they are not representing the full county. Two members were elected by the county at large. One member was elected a year after the boundaries were changed. So these laws were not adjusted to protect the interests of this board,” said Trustee Joey O’Connell.
“I am concerned that no matter the map that we approve unless it is a DHF map that we will be sued,” said Williams, “Map 3 would be my choice it is an accumulation of input from all types of constituents and doesn’t nullify the will of the voters.”
Camila Chavez, the Executive Director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, declined to comment on whether the Dolores Huerta Foundation would sue if their maps were not adopted by the Board.
Trustee Flores said that the board has done their best to incorporate all the input from the public input meetings.
“We’ve listened to the community [and] listened to Dolores Huerta Foundation and over time we’ve seen the maps have changed at each stage incorporating some of the things that they wanted which were keeping Arvin and Lamont under one trustee [area] not two, keeping them whole, incorporating the communities of Greenfield in there, and keeping the Sikh community whole into that one area. We’ve done all those things. So I think option three best reflects public comment with the exception of the Rosedale issue.”
However, not all community members were supportive of the map that the KHSD decided to move forward with. Jose Gonzalez is one such resident who has been attending the redistricting meetings in hopes of attaining greater representation for the Lamont community.
“My reaction to them is that it was more important to protect their incumbency than hearing what the community wanted. The community was asking for someone local within their area to get elected and the trustees elected for preserving their seats,” said Gonzalez.
Chavez stated that she believes that despite efforts to include community input the Latino vote is still being diluted.
“It’s disappointing especially being the fact that the majority of the public who have came throughout these meetings over the last couple of months expressed support for our plan. And what’s most disappointing is that they are continuing this gerrymandering of keeping three members who live within three miles of each other in the same area,” said Chavez.
The Kern High School District will present Plan 3 to the Kern County Committee on School District Organization on Thursday evening.