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Residency shouldnt matter
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin

There seems to be a rush to judgment by the Bulletin as it covers the challenges to the will of the majority of Manteca Unified School District voters in selecting two newcomers as Trustees. Voters residing in Manteca, Lathrop, French Camp and yes Stockton selected Trustees Ashley Drain and Alexander Bronson. The former has extensive ties to our district, the latter brings fresh energy and insights as a recent returnee to our county. Trustee Drain is the first African American woman chosen to serve, Trustee Bronson is the youngest Latino board member MUSD voters have chosen for service. 

Both Trustees represent a commitment to civic engagement which is unfortunately lacking in so many local school board elections which are uncontested. They also represent constituencies which have been historically underrepresented on our Board. Trustee Drain has been focusing on the State level data indicating disproportionate discipline and other negative outcomes for African American students. Trustee Bronson has been prioritizing the need to broaden MUSD communication to those without enrolled students. I think we need to prudently reserve judgement given the importance of the students and issues these novice Trustees are seeking to engage.

The Bulletin did a great job informing the public about the residency concerns during the election. The electorate decided that change was more important than long term residency and thus retired incumbents with long established roots in MUSD. Perhaps the civic lessons taught in our schools provided a rational for applying a low priority to the Bulletin’s residency concerns. The framers of our Federal Constitution debated residency rules for the ‘People’s House’. Representatives to Congress need to be residents of the state on the day of election, not registration. Add the proper age and citizenship and you are qualified to serve if elected. Thus today our representatives to Congress can live outside of their districts. Our local representative for Manteca lives outside of the state but has a legal residence in California.

As scholars of election law such as Professor Lowenstein of UCLA have stated, there are many more pressing issues than residency. Indeed the durational residency clause from the California Constitution for state elected service has been unenforced since 1973. Residency issues are historically complaint driven rather than proactively investigated. And in most cases the complaint concerns public officials who live outside of the area they serve. In the case of Trustees Drain and Bronson the complaints were filed immediately after they were chosen by local MUSD voters. Both had completed their moves to full MUSD residency by this time. Thus the aggressive multiple count felony charges can be seen as polarizing partisan politics intruding on local choices for ‘People’s Trustees’. Our system provides for a recall to allow for a change to the will of the majority. Given our heavily impacted court system the DA’s optional choice to prosecute does not seem the proper priority to me. 

Be that as it may, the presumption of innocence is an important character trait for Americans. Trustees Drain and Bronson appear to have been in housing transition at the time of their registration. It has been shared that they both have past experience with incomes similar to that of low income MUSD students, who are over 65% of our enrollment. I know from decades of work with under housed folks that greater income makes for easier housing transitions. I trust our jury system to weigh the finer distinctions concerning intent to move, presence, residence and domicile in reference to our local values.

As the Bulletin stated previously, there is a generation shift on the MUSD Board. Trustees Romero, Fant, Drain and Bronson all provide perspectives informed by recent experiences with public education, surviving in a turbulent economy and honed by running in elections. Trustees Seelye, Moore and Teicheira provide perspectives informed by longer experiences, surviving with retirement and farming but without the recent chance to be strengthened by an actual electoral race. As the newcomers, Trustees Drain and Bronson have many accomplishments that should be factored into our evaluation of their characters. They have provided email and cell phone access, advocated for greater public involvement, visited many schools, advocated for student concerns, listened to the community concerning the reelection of teachers and debated district administration proposals. Their voting record reflects a commitment to students, families and community. 

In the context of Character Counts I hope our community continues to remember to model to our students the important pillars of respect – deal peacefully with disagreements and caring – forgive others. Or to share the words of Henry James: Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.


Leo Bennett-Cauchon