Steinmetz: Westminster School District Needs Fair Representation for All Parents

Are you a parent with a child attending a school in the Westminster School District? Are you aware that the way you vote at upcoming 2018 elections will define how your school is represented at the district level? I believe it is time that parents, the stakeholders of this district, become informed about who has control over our child(ren)’s education because the board might be at the brink of making an unethical decision.

In July of 2017, Westminster School District (WSD) was served with a lawsuit from Shenkman & Hughes, stating that their at-large voting system violated the California Voting Rights Act. The district decided to comply as of August 31, 2017 and move to a “by-trustee area” electoral system. Public hearings took place October 19th and November 9th. You can read this information here.

They also held special meetings as “Public Hearings” that took place one week apart that landed during the time of back-to-school nights, which made it difficult for parents to attend. Additionally, notices were posted in English only, on standard print paper. As a resident and an involved parent with a child in school, I had no idea these meetings were being held. Furthermore, demographics for Westminster show that the majority of residents in this city are primarily Vietnamese families, and in some areas, a high concentration of Hispanic families, making any information coming from the board, difficult to read. While the district does supply a google translate option on their site, this is only useful if parents have access to reliable internet service, the know-how to use this technology, and the knowledge of this feature. No translated agendas are available at Board Meetings, further alienating non-English speaking parents from coming to meetings or being able to follow along if they decide to attend.

Maps were presented by the National Demographics Corporation (NDC), and the “Green” Map was put forward as a good candidate with suggested sequencing. The board decided to go with Sequencing 1, 3, 5 for 2018 even though there are (2) current board members representing area 1. Skipping area 1 for the 2018 election does no harm, as they currently have Trustee Frances Nguyen, a member until 2020, as a fair representative. The sequencing the board has favored, would allow Area 1 double representation while leaving Area 2 with none.

Leaving area 2 without proper representation concerns me because I am the PTA President of one of the schools that would be greatly affected in Area 2. As a bilingual parent with biracial children, it is important to me that inclusivity be a part of our school board system since the majority of Westminster has a “minority” population; 74% of residents are ‘non-white’ and it’s important that the future of Westminster be fairly represented. Since the last Hispanic WSD Trustee, Sergio Contreras (2004-2012), the Board Members have not, in my opinion, continued to foster a relationship with the Hispanic community.

A meeting was held by Westminster Teachers Association that invited PTA Presidents, members, and teachers in the district. This information was new to the majority of parents and teachers there, and it was then that we realized that we, the districts stakeholders, were not being reached. Reviewing archived agendas, we quickly learned that the board decided to skip the first suggested sequencing, leaving Area 2 without a seat until 2020. The reason shared by the board was that Area 2 is a ‘high minority’ community that doesn’t come out to vote in non-presidential election years. After attending the last board meeting, it was clear that there’s a chance the board might be trying to save a seat for one of the 3 current board members who have terms ending this year. This is completely unethical and an abuse of power.

The entire purpose of the CVRA is to allow fair representation on governing boards. The people of Area 2 are not asking that the seat be given away or handed to anyone, they are asking that the board simply allow the empty chair in Area 2 to be filled by a resident this election year as suggested in the first sequencing (2018- Area 2, 3, 5). They are doing an injustice to the community by not complying to the demands of the lawsuit and repeating the same behavior they were caught in violation of. It’s time that the school district be fairly represented by being more diverse so they may help meet the unique needs of every school in the district. We ask that they do what’s right and ethical for the people of Westminster.

Parents spoke at the last meeting in regards to their disappointment about the sequencing they had chosen and instead of honoring what many felt was right, they simply requested that additional maps be drawn up, further dragging out the situation, adding costs to this ordeal, and getting close to their March 2018 deadline. We need fresh, new ideas injected into our school system and it’s important we consider term limits for WSD board members. At the last board meeting, term limits were presented and immediately rejected (3-2 vote). WSD currently has board members who have no children in our school system and have been serving for several terms with no end in sight, and it seems that the only vote allowed to put term limits in place, is that of themselves (the board) which clearly seems like a conflict of interest. Would you put an end date to your job title and benefits?

I invite you to our next School Board Meeting on January 18th at 7pm at 14121 Cedarwood Ave. Westminster, CA 92683.

Claudia Steinmetz is a parent, PTA President, resident of Westminster, and a self-proclaimed geek. As a first generation Mexican American, raised by immigrant parents, she was the first child in her family to receive a Bachelors degree. A freelance graphic designer, Claudia is a lover of the arts and runs an after school art program under the sponsorship of the PTA. Claudia enjoys museums, music, reading, baking, volunteering, and all things nerdy.

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