March 9, 2007

Commentary:

Communities Not Represented in South County Education

By Ed Herrera

Former United States President James Garfield once said, “[I]t is a weak point in the theory of representative government as now organized and administered, that a large portion of the voting people are permanently disenfranchised.” This was said in 1881, but in 2007, little progress has been made at the local levels of our school districts in South Bay San Diego.

For example, in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, five of five school board trustees reside in Bonita, if one includes David Bejarano, recently appointed to seat vacated by Cheryl Cox, now Mayor of Chula Vista.

In the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD), which vastly encompasses communities in Chula Vista, Bonita, National City, Imperial Beach, San Ysidro, and parts of South San Diego, there are three Bonita residents, one East Chula Vista resident, and one National City resident.

What does this notion imply? First, we must acknowledge that communities are fractioned based on different variables, into sub-communities. Second, different communities have different needs and/or have a different outlook on where to invest public monies. For example, in the past there have been many outspoken members of the East Chula Vista community, who must pay mello-roos (a special tax which is imposed on real property owners within the newly developed East Chula Vista communities), who have criticized the Sweetwater Union High School District for not ensuring that those taxes remain within the rapidly growing community, to keep up with its growth. Although in an ideal society, we would imagine that such divisions such as east or west do not exist, we cannot ignore, what in sociology we call, indivisible dividers. Of course, not all dividers are invisible such as socioeconomic conditions and the implementation of special taxes which distinguish communities from others and demand the public’s attention toward issues of disparity. Dividers such as freeways, bridges, or gates, are prime examples of vary apparent, physical boundary lines, but they remain impalpable in conceptual meaning.

Having stated the above, we return to current representation as it stands. In the Chula Vista Elementary School District, both East and West Chula Vista Communities are not represented.

In the vast Sweetwater Union High School District, West Chula Vista (where both Castle Park High and Junior High are federal-listed), Imperial Beach (where a community of dedicated teachers and parents were baffled by the school board’s decision to build a multi-million dollar gymnasium in a Federal-listed high school, rather than much needed classrooms), South San Diego (where both Southwest High and Junior high are federal listed), and last but certainly not least, San Ysidro, where not a single incumbent’s yard sign, in the 2006 General Election, was visible.

In National City, where its SUHSD high school is federal-listed, the National City School Board and the community has made repeated efforts towards unification. The first effort was in 1992, both in National City and Imperial Beach. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, Sweetwater Union High School District spent approximately $200,000 to defeat the measures. Unification meant that SUHSD, would lose control over schools in both cities. In 2006, that effort was backed-up by the City of National City— a profound, public outcry for effective leadership and representation.

The National Civic League has found that: “Unquestionably, it can be shown that proportional representation can provide the greatest equity in representing all sectors of the community.” Therefore, are not having representatives from specific communities more effective in achieving accurate representation and concentrated involvement more effective in motivating and organizing respective communities? Equally important, is the strengthening of democracy. District area representation makes the democratic process more democratic, striking at the core of the notion of insurmountable incumbency power, allowing equally qualified candidates the ability to access the community.

Let us look toward the principles of our founding fathers who believed in proportional representation, where every outlet of society could be equally represented and every community be given its own respective and genuinely reflective voice. Our community must decide.

Ed Herrera was a recent school board candidate.

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