Our nation was founded, in part, upon the principles of righteous representation. To be sure, representatives who live nearest to their constituents are more able to righteously represent them.
Currently, the Kern High School District does not embody righteous representation. According to a recent story in the Bakersfield Californian, three of the five board members live within a few miles of each other in the northwest area of Bakersfield. Meanwhile, the rural areas of Arvin, Lamont and Weedpatch do not have a single representative from their area on the board. This is unacceptable. In that same article I was quoted as suggesting that the initial plans proposed by the District “maintained the status quo in order to order to maintain the incumbency” of the board, and I added, “They draw the lines to protect themselves.” And I stand by that statement.
Serving the community is a calling and a privilege. It is not a right. Protecting one’s incumbency should not be on the list of priorities in drawing the boundaries. Serving kids, families, and the communities in which they live should be the priority. And that is the philosophy that our forbearers fought and died for.
Change, however, is on the horizon. But what will that change look like? Facing the threat of a lawsuit for not ensuring equal representation, the KHSD Board must now redraw the trustee electoral districts. You don’t need to be a political insider to know that at the heart of every redistricting fight is political power. Those who have the power want to keep it. And, if you have the power and authority to draw the districts, then you have the power to select your voters, rather than the voters selecting you.
As the superintendent of the Vineland School District, I am often asked why I am so passionate about this issue, when it does not affect my district or my students. My answer is simple. Just because our student leave our district after 8th grade does not mean that they leave my thoughts and prayers. I want to send them to a district and to a high school that values them and their parents.
I’ve been at Vineland for five wonderful years and have come to realize that, because we are so far removed from the center of power, we are always an afterthought. And without righteous representation, our students and our families will never receive the same services and benefits that other students and families receive in the Kern High School District.
I am happy to see that the KHSD Board has backed away from its two previous plans and is now considering a third plan. However, that plan is still a long way away from establishing righteous representation. As such, I support the redistricting plan currently being offered by the Dolores Huerta Foundation because I believe it does the best job of taking into account the full range of “communities of interest” factors, which is an integral part of drawing boundaries that are more equitable, more effective, and more righteous.
Yes, it’s important to redraw the boundaries that are compliant with the Luna decision, but the concept of “communities of interest” is much more than a single issue. The Huerta plan also focuses on other factors such as geography, economics, familial ties, and educational interests, etc.
We need trustees on the Kern High School District board who truly represent their communities, live in their communities, work in their communities, and truly understand the concerns families and students have from their communities. The KHSD needs to respect all of South Kern by redrawing the lines fairly and quickly to ensure righteous representation for all communities. Our students deserve it. Our families deserve it. And our community as a whole deserves it.
Matthew W. Ross, Ed.D, is superintendent of the Vineland School District in south Bakersfield, CA 93307. The opinions expressed are his own.