Bakersfield City School District Trustee Raymond Gonzales, an educator who has devoted his life to public service, announced his resignation from the board Tuesday over health issues.

Gonzales, 78, who ran unchallenged in November, has been battling kidney failure since January and has missed three board meetings in four months. His resignation is effective May 31.

“Had I known that my health was going to deteriorate so rapidly over the last few months, I would not have sought re-election in November, but at the time I was feeling pretty good,” Gonzales wrote in a letter to the board. “But things have gone south in a few short months.”

Gonzales has been hospitalized twice since Jan. 24, is on hemodialysis and is suffering from a blood issue brought about by a calcium imbalance that results in painful skin lesions for which he’s undergoing daily treatment.

“Let’s just say that I am getting very old and unable to do the kind of job I have always taken pride in doing,” Gonzales wrote.

Gonzales’ departure marks the second time since December that board members have been forced to replace a trustee. The first was when Andrae Gonzales (no relation to Raymond) was elected to the Bakersfield City Council, leaving his seat vacant. It was filled by Russ Shuppert, an East Bakersfield High School teacher.

Gonzales has three years left on his term.

Lillian Tafoya, president of the board, said Wednesday that she’s unsure whether trustees will vote to hold a special election, which could cost roughly $70,000, or appoint a candidate. They’ve not discussed either, yet.

She said that Gonzales’ “heart was in the right place,” and that he always put students first.

Although Gonzales hadn’t yet served a full term – he was appointed to a vacant seat and had just completed his second year – his accomplishments are plenty.

One of his first orders of business was creating more fiscal transparency during board meetings. Before Gonzales started, board members voted on multiple contracts and other items in the consent calendar in one fell swoop without knowing the fiscal impacts, Gonzales said.

He changed that, pushing for staff to include how much a contract would cost so trustees could know before voting, he said.

Then he turned his attention to shabby water fountains around the schools in his area. During visits to campuses, he asked where teachers got their drinking water – and few said they drank from the fountains. So Gonzales snapped some photos and put them on display at the next board meeting.

“Would you let your kid drink out of that water fountain?” Gonzales said, describing them as “disgusting.”

The next week, the fountains were cleaned up. Gonzales even worked with Assistant Superintendent Steve McClain to forge relationships with clean water advocates to place filters at several school sites.

When Gonzales received a heart pacemaker, he learned from his doctor about the importance of emergency defibrillators and raised the issue to the board. He asked: Why don’t our schools have these life-saving devices?

As a result, they were installed last year and one was used two months ago to save a boy’s life when he went into cardiac arrest.

Gonzales has devoted his life to education.

He began teaching at Bakersfield College in 1965 and was the only Latino faculty member out of 200 instructors. A few years later, he became a founding faculty member at Cal State Bakersfield when it opened in 1970.

Then he ran for State Assembly and won, even though he was a Latino Democrat in a Republican stronghold. Gonzales became the first Latino to be elected to the State Assembly from the San Joaquin Valley in 1972, and was a founding member of the Chicano Legislative Caucus. He served as chairman of the Assembly Education Committee that year. He lost his re-election bid to Bill Thomas, who later became a longtime congressman and, eventually, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

After the election, Gonzales was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown as the director of the Office of Educational Liaison as an advisor to the governor. He later earned his PhD in Latin American Studies from the University of Southern California and taught at Cal State University Monterey Bay.

Despite all that, Gonzales said the most significant and rewarding experience of his career in education has been serving as a BCSD trustee.

“I have this belief that American democracy begins at the public school system. Back in the colonial days communities got together and wanted their kids to get some education, taxed themselves, got a school room, hired a teacher and began an education system,” Gonzales said. “It’s fundamental.”

​Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce

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