Tems-peratures run hot within ESUSD
There’s even more behind election system discussions that have been going on in the Eastern Sierra Unified School District (ESUSD) for about a year. Bigger than the concern of minority representation and the California Voting Rights Act is simply concern regarding proper representation on the school board for the town of Coleville. At a special Board meeting on Dec. 12, several members of the public expressed dissatisfaction with board member, Bob Tems who represents Antelope Valley.
“We are not seeing representation at a local level,” said Antelope Valley resident John Peters, who ran against Tems in the 2010 school board election and lost.
“The allocation of resources is what people are concerned about, not minorities,” said Jimmy Little, a Bridgeport resident.
Since the end of 2010, ESUSD has been discussing changing from an “at large” election system to a “by trustee” system. The difference would mean that instead of the entire district being allowed to vote for any one of the school board members, the community would only be allowed to vote for the school board member who would represent their area. For example, residents in the Antelope Valley would only be allowed to vote for a school board member who lives within the Antelope Valley boundaries. They would not be allowed to vote for the Board member that would represent June Lake, Benton, or any other areas of the district.
The district is divided on the issue with the strongest pull for a change coming from Coleville. In the 2010 election, Tems, who lives in Walker, won the Antelope Valley seat, however. he received the majority of his votes from outside the Antelope Valley area. According to Mono County’s election results, Tems received only 25.36 percent of the vote in Antelope Valley, but 40.92 percent of the overall vote in the district. Peters received 40.67 percent of the vote in Antelope Valley but only 30.17 percent of the overall vote.
If Antelope Valley had been the sole community to vote for that seat on the Board, Tems would not have walked away with a victory.
“Communities can be overridden by the rest of the district,” Little said. “That is a valid concern.”
Board President Doug Northington, however, felt it didn’t matter how any one board member is elected. “You need a board majority to pass anything,” he said. “Regardless of what each site wants, you’re still only one vote. By trustee could create even more division on the Board.”
“But the issue is that the particular group [Coleville] does not have a voice at the table, regardless of how a vote goes,” Little explained.
“Coleville parents don’t have a Board member coming to events and activities,” added Brianna Brown, another Bridgeport resident. “Coleville got pushed into a situation and didn’t get the representative it wanted. They don’t have anyone on the Board saying, ‘I’m here for Coleville.’”
Interestingly enough, Brown added, if Coleville wanted to it has the numbers to steamroll elections in other areas. If Coleville residents banded together they could end up choosing who was elected in Benton or other areas of the district.
Board member Matthew Baumann, while willing to give in and allow the change to “by trustee” feared that it would cause Coleville to take on an even bigger “us against them” attitude.
“[Coleville] has no problem steamrolling other sites and the kids are negatively affected by it,” Baumann commented.
“I don’t think it is so much ‘down with other sites’ as it is feeling a need to protect ourselves,” Brown said. “No one’s fighting for them [Coleville].”
Tems readily admitted to The Sheet after the meeting that he takes a district-wide approach rather than an Antelope Valley approach while sitting at the table as a Board member. He also did not argue his lack of attendance at Antelope Valley school functions.
“A ‘by trustee’ election system would harm, not help,” Tems opined. “It could be argued that it would segregate minorities.” Which would bring the Board back to a California Voting Rights Act issue. The CVRA says that minorities must be equally represented, but in Tems’ opinion, changing to by trustee would break up the Hispanic populations in the district and they may not be equally represented in each community.
The Board will vote on a resolution regarding the election system at its regular meeting on Dec. 19 at 6 p.m. at the District Office in Bridgeport. The resolution (a non-binding Board recommendation), if approved, would keep the at large system in place. The issue would then go to the Mono County Committee (the governing body allowed to make a change to a governing board’s election system) for a final decision.
“If people want to change to by trustee we should go with it,” Baumann said. “With the budget issues looming before us we are wasting time and beating a dead horse with this.”
Some parents outside of Coleville, however, do not want to make the change. Joe Blommer of June Lake supported keeping the at large system.
“Changing to by trustee would limit parents’ control over their kid’s education,” Blommer said. “Some parents wouldn’t be able to elect the Board members that most affect the school their child attends.”
With a district the size of Eastern Sierra Unified, often children living in one community attend a school in another because there is no school in their immediate community.
“Anyone running for a Board position already has to live in the area they would represent, so they already understand their community,” he concluded.