Final results from November's election make it clear that the Kern High School District has a new board member with deep roots in Lamont: David Manriquez.
"I feel like it’s a big deal for the community that I live in," Manriquez said.
It has been a sticking point for some communities, notably in South Kern, that the district board didn't reflect much in the way of geographic diversity. Before the board redrew its area boundaries in 2018, four trustees on the board lived on the west side of Bakersfield, three within a few miles of one another. And now?
"Lamont will have a voice at the table," said Miguel Sanchez, a member of the Comite Progreso de Lamont.
Sanchez served for 12 years on the Lamont Elementary School board along with Manriquez. Sanchez described Manriquez as someone who "brings knowledge and brings integrity and brings the work ethic that a board member should have." Sanchez said that having someone like Manriquez on the KHSD board will bring a different perspective to the board.
The Kern High School District board redrew its boundaries in 2018 after the Dolores Huerta Foundation threatened the district with a lawsuit. The foundation accused the board of gerrymandering trustee areas in a way that excluded Latino participation. The board has seen quite a bit of turnover in the last two elections since those boundaries were redrawn: only incumbents Jeff Flores, whose seat was up this election, and Bryan Batey, whose seat was up in 2018, retained their seats.
Manriquez won his seat on the board handily with 56 percent of the vote, ousting incumbent Joey O'Connell.
Manriquez's campaign was truly a grassroots one, he said. Every single campaign sign was put up by him or his wife. He had a more extended team of family and friends and community members in Area 3 doing the work of digital campaigning, which was crucial in the era of social distancing.
Manriquez is a campus supervisor for the Bakersfield City School District, but he has also been a football and wrestling coach at Arvin and Ridgeview high schools.
Manriquez points out that Area 3 is a wide-ranging district that includes not just Lamont, where he's made his home for more than 50 years, but Arvin, Weedpatch, Pumpkin Center and Shafter. He's hoping that his election can be seen as a win that encourages engagement in his area.
"Hopefully it inspires the younger generation to say 'We need to get involved in our community,'" he said.
Some members of the community have very specific goals in mind. Jose Gonzalez, president of the Greater Lamont Chamber of Commerce, has been a part of a group of community members pushing for a new high school in Lamont. They have pushed the KHSD to build a new high school. They have also started a petition to create a new unified district with local elementary schools that would include a high school; however, that effort has slowed during the pandemic.
"We are looking for every opportunity to get a high school in the community of Lamont," Gonzalez said.
Manriquez isn't making any pledges just yet.
"You can’t promise anything to the community when there are other four members, because you’re just one vote," he said.
He said that any plans will have to be based on data, and they need to take into account the needs of the students across the district.
"My decisions are not adult-based, they’re going to be student-based," Manriquez said. "The question is: 'How is this going to affect our students?'"
Right now his goal is to join the board and show that he's open and objective and ready to listen. At the same time, he wants to do what he can to restore trust in the Kern High School District in his community.
Sanchez says that as a Lamont school board member Manriquez was a "builder" who is good at reaching out, building bridges and coming up with proposals that work for the board as a team. He believes that will serve Area 3 well in the long term.
"He’s a local boy, and I think he’ll probably look at the possibilities in the future," Sanchez said.
Manriquez has broad aims as a trustee. One of his main goals is to further strengthen the relationships between the district and Cal State Bakersfield and Bakersfield College. He also wants to solidify the relationships the district has with the local elementary school districts that feed into the KHSD. The ultimate goal is to make sure local districts are working together to make sure students are on track for college.
"We want to make sure eighth-graders understand the expectations if you want to go into a university," Manriquez said.