Monday’s Kern High School District board meeting was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. But 7:15 came and went with no sign of the five trustees.
Then the clock read 7:30, and still no one appeared on the dais.
The audience area, however, was crowded and the people seemed hungry for satisfaction. More than 150 people, mostly residents of Lamont, Greenfield, Arvin and other small rural communities, had gathered outside before the meeting to assert that their representation on the board is poor to non-existent.
They want change, they say. They want two majority-Latino trustee areas. And they are losing patience.
“For too long, communities of interest have been ignored,” Jose Gonzalez, of the Lamont Chamber of Commerce, said with two busloads of people standing on either side of him.
The buses were supplied by the Vineland School District, whose superintendent, Matt Ross, was also at Monday's meeting in support of a redistricting plan offered by the Dolores Huerta Foundation, one of several groups represented at the pre-meeting gathering and press conference.
Ross is concerned that the plans created by the district "maintain the status quo in order to maintain the incumbency" of the board.
"They draw the lines to protect themselves," he said.
District trustees began the process of redrawing their voting areas in mid-March in an effort to deliver more representation to Latino-majority communities following a judge's ruling that the Kern County Board of Supervisors' district lines violated federal law.
The criteria takes into account population equality, compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act, maintaining communities of interest, and other considerations.
The district must include at least two trustee areas that are Latino-majority.
Finally, at about 7:40 p.m., the meeting went into open session. After several other agenda items were completed, Shelley Lapkoff, a demographer with Lapkoff and Gobalet Demographic Research, began describing to the board the changes that had been made since the last public comment sessions.
Following her presentation, trustees didn't say much, although Board Vice President Bryan Batey sounded ready to support Lapkoff's version.
But public comment was next, and there were many present who had signed up to speak.
The comments continued past press time.
But the concerns appeared to mirror those expressed earlier.
The Dolores Huerta Foundation proposed new trustee area boundaries at the April 9 board meeting. And those present were supporting it.
Three of the five board members live within a few miles of one another in the Bakersfield's northwest, organizers said. And that’s a sign that something is seriously amiss.
“There is something systematically wrong with the Kern High School District board,” Gonzalez said.
Lamont residents are still looking for a high school in their community.