The Dolores Huerta Foundation proposed new trustee area boundaries at the Kern High School District board meeting Monday that would create two Latino majority districts, and also would cut Area Three Trustee Joey O’Connell out of his area.
If DHF gets its way, Arvin, Lamont, Greenfield and Weedpatch will have its own district — something DHF Educational Policy Director Gerald Cantu said will preserve communities of interest while providing a second Latino-majority district. The first is in east Bakersfield and is held by Trustee Jeff Flores.
“There’s no trade-off,” Cantu said. “Communities of interest can remain together and we can have two Latino majority districts. That’s what we want and ask of the board as they draw the lines.”
Trustees began the process of redrawing lines March 5, just days after a federal judge ruled that the County of Kern violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. KHSD was under threat of a similar lawsuit the Dolores Huerta Foundation prepared to file.
Roughly 65 percent of all KHSD's students are Latino; however, the board of trustees is made up of four white men — Trustees Phillip Peters, Bryan Batey, O'Connell and Mike Williams — and one Latino, Flores. All of them are Republicans on the nonpartisan board.
DHF’s rendering was drawn drastically different than three separate maps presented by Shelley Lapkoff, a demographer with Lapkoff and Gobalet Demographic Research, which the district contracted as it works through the redistricting process.
Those maps kept O’Connell in his area. One pulled Shafter into Area Three to get a greater population of Latinos, and the other excluded it. The third plan — a variation of the map that drew Shafter in, made minor changes to Area Two.
Before the meeting ended, a concerned O’Connell spoke with Cantu and another DHF staff member outside of the board chambers about the proposal.
“We’re going to review the DHF maps in great detail,” said O’Connell, who runs the greatest risk of losing his seat to a majority Latino district because it includes south Kern farming communities. “I hope they give me the benefit of the doubt.”
He’s been in his position for about one year, but has been criticized by Lamont residents who are eager to have a high school built in their town. They currently attend classes at Arvin High, which they say is overcrowded and has poor bus service.
“We are still looking for a high school in our community, and we have been looking for that since 2006. It’s not fair that this community should have to continue to beg for that when we have an elected representative from our community to push for that,” said Jose Gonzales, the president of the Greater Lamont Chamber of Commerce, who has been spearheading efforts to get a high school built in town. “Having a representative on your board that represents our area and understands our community is what we’re looking for.”
O’Connell said he has invested much time on the Lamont high school issue, visiting Arvin High, eating lunch with students and riding the bus to school to experience the overcrowding.
“When they give us a very directed list of concerns, I’m immediately on it. Whether or not that means I can relate, I don’t know, but what it does mean is I will act on their behalf as I’m elected to, and will continue to regardless,” O’Connell said.
Trustees have their next meeting regarding proposed boundary changes at 7 p.m. Monday in their board chambers on Sundale Avenue.