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About those MUSD elephants
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,

Regarding “The ‘elephant’ in the MUSD board room” (July 18 on Page A8 in the Bulletin), the signatures in hand required for an Area 6 special election based on a provisional appointment are about 115 (765 for at large). The letter of the rules obviously favor an election in the context of an appointment. However there is also the spirit to consider. I was able to reflect on this spirit this past week with former Trustee Dale Fritchen, President Debbie Romero and provisional Trustee Stephen Schluer — hopefully soon to be simply Trustee on the board profile page. 

I liked them all and am thankful for their insights and help with my petition decision. We did not all agree on many points but the conversation was civil and found sufficient common ground. It is great to like past and present Trustees. However my logic was more about supporting moving forward from the common ground with a full Board over the electoral process at this point in time.

There are getting to be so many elephants in the Manteca Unified School District that perhaps I can recoup the cost of my open letter by selling programs to keep them straight. The various cost estimates for going electoral is a moderate sized elephant given the $30 million to $40 million plus future costs spent on Going Digital. The $350,000 election cost is the estimate for an at large special election. It is more likely that the cost for just Area 6 would have been $53,000. This Registrar of Voters estimate also includes the statement that MUSD will determine if elections are at large or by area. 

The letter and spirit of residency rules is another elephant. As I have written previously electoral residency rules are arbitrary. In practice they tend to be enforced like Manteca’s fence rules: mostly by complaint with periods of administrative benign neglect. For example California’s Constitution (IV, 2, c) states: “a person is ineligible to be a member of the Legislature unless the person is an elector and has been a resident of the legislative district for one year ... immediately preceding the election.” The Attorney General ruled in 1973 that this violates the Federal Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and is thus not enforceable. Locally Tom Berryhill prevailed as the defendant in a lawsuit which sought to challenge this ruling.

Trustee Bronson did not simply forge ahead as questions concerning his residency were very publicly debated. It is my understanding that he checked about the possibility of removing his name from the ballot but learned that this was not possible. He may have shared the common opinion that his winning over a currently seated Board President was not likely. However a majority of the voters chose Bronson, who was a resident when seated as a Trustee. The electorate’s choice should not lead to him being charged with seven felony counts with life altering penalties. Hopefully his resignation will merit a reasonable settlement offer from the DA.

Trustee Ashley Drain faces similar felony charges along with others that come from her well known residency issues. She also feels the weight of this even bigger elephant. I think she wants to do what is in the best interest of the district and especially its underserved students. Rather than adding to the weight she has to bear perhaps our community could consider embracing her intent and identifying a role better suited to her gifts than that of Trustee. Resignation will come a lot easier if the judicial system considers reducing the writing on the wall being applied to another trustee who was chosen by majority of the electorate over an incumbent with 16 years of service. Again the DA will hopefully consider all the elephants.

And then there are the politicians elsewhere in the state, who unlike Bronson and Drain, never intended to reside in the area they represented. Despite being convicted after stubborn denials, most have had their sentences reduced and avoided the elephant of jail time:

One of the biggest elephants for me is how did MUSD get in this situation? Candidates Bronson and Drain had their parts. However, according to the Nov. 12, 2014 Bulletin so did others: “… A source indicates long before the balloting took place trustees discussed what they should do — if anything — about candidates Alexander Bronson and Ashley Drain.” 

It is by no means certain that residency violations prior to election would withstand full judicial appeal. However the long process of appeal is not in MUSD’s best interest. From my perspective Trustee Drain has always had this interest in mind even when her approach has been controversial to some.

For the elephants to leave the MUSD board room without any trampling my suggestion is that a gentle approach has the greater chance of success.

Léo Bennett-Cauchon