Are you ready to give up your right to vote for all seven Manteca Unified School District board members?
If so, vote “yes” on Measure I on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Before you do, though, be prepared for Manteca Unified to one day spend $1 million or so in tax dollars that could have gone to teaching kids to fight off an inevitable lawsuit.
That’s because every lawsuit filed under the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 has resulted in proponents of district elections prevailing over backers of at-large elections.
In other words, the courts have decreed you can make a choice at the ballot box on Nov. 4 but if you don’t make the choice they want you to make they are going to go ahead and force you do to their bidding anyway.
So why is it on the ballot if ultimately you have no choice?
The answer is simple. The Manteca Unified board ignored their fiduciary duties to not put the district at risk and bowed to pressure from citizens who demanded they be able to exercise their most basic right to determine how they can elect board members.
It is hard to ignore the citizens’ arguments. But in reality a well-established pattern up and down California has made it clear the courts will punish those that don’t switch to district elections on their own accord. It is next to impossible to win a lawsuit since all those pushing it simply have to do is point to the demographic make-up of an elected board.
That happened in the City of Modesto that lost a $3 million lawsuit defending at large elections. Prior to district elections taking place in 2009, there were seven Caucasians on the City Council. Now here are five Caucasians and two Latinos. Modesto’s population consists of 49 percent Caucasians, 36 percent Latino, 7 percent Asian and 4 percent black.
Like it nor not, it is clear that the law of California requires district elections. They already exist for the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors as well as the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.
Representatives by district can effectively represent an entire jurisdiction. It is also true that those elected by district have to pay closer attention to neighborhood problems as well.
At the same time you can point to cases were governing board members are elected at-large have not ignored neighborhood needs and concerns.
But Measure I and the California Voting Right Act of 2001 aren’t about whether the current system works. It is about demographics of a community and ethic representation on the governing board.
As such, the Manteca Unified board consists of six Caucasians and one Black. There are no Latinos or Asians. You can argue until you are blue in the face that the district hasn’t ignored the needs of all segments of the community but that isn’t what counts when you’re hauled into court.
The board should have swallowed the bitter pill as responsible representatives often need to do to comply with the law to protect the district. If Measure I doesn’t pass, the district can be sued. And when that happens they will lose while spending a lot of tax dollars to do so.
The district has opted not to “educate” the voting public about Measure I as they have about Measure G.
It’s a shame as the cost of a mailer could save the district a cool million dollars or so down the road unless they quickly capitulate when they are challenged with a suit.
But then again, how would you “educate” the public? The school district could explain they were asking for a waiver to implement district elections without going to the ballot because they were aware that ultimately a court would rule district-wide elections illegal under the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. But then voters would wonder why the board lacked the fortitude to do what they are supposed to do.
It may come as a shock to the school board, but they really don’t have a choice in a lot of things. When free and reduced meals guidelines are presented to them each year, for an example, they can’t really vote against them as doing so would cost them millions of dollars.
By placing Measure I on the ballot, the school board protects the myth of local control. While school boards have some say on what happens in a local district, the real key decisions are made in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
An argument for district elections in Manteca Unified can be made without interjecting ethnicity.
As it stands now, there is not a member from Lathrop — a community approaching 20,000 people — on the board. There hasn’t been since the days of Joe Widmer.
Manuel Medeiros — the current representative of the area that includes Lathrop — has done a solid job as a board member. He doesn’t live in Lathrop or its traditional rural sphere. Of all the board members, he brings a distinctively different view to the table. He championed vocational education long before it was adopted as the latest education buzz word.
But if elections had previously been done by district Medeiros would have won three times and lost once based on Lathrop precinct results. He even beat his last challenger — a Latino woman — handily in Lathrop precincts even though she was from Lathrop.
That tells you the one size fits all approach the court is taking isn’t necessarily the best.
But when the dust settles, the court has already spoken regardless of the outcome on Nov.4.
Yet the school board saw fit to go ahead with a farce of an election just so they won’t look like the bad guys.