Over the last few years, residents and community partners of Building Healthy Communities Kern have been working hard to bring positive changes to their communities.
In 2016, young residents, led by Jocelyn Cuevas, advocated for a major investment in their community of Rexland Acres. Their hard work was rewarded with $6 million that will address flooding, build sidewalks and improve street safety in their neighborhoods. At the time, Jocelyn said, “Dreams do come true.”
In Arvin, we now have a new skate park. Once again, it’s thanks to young residents who gathered signatures, received input from members of the community and presented plans to the city. They pushed for a skate park and didn’t stop until it was built.
Just last year the Kern High School District settled a lawsuit and acknowledged it had disproportionately expelled and suspended black and Latino students. As part of the settlement, the district agreed to strengthen programs related to disciplinary practices by implementing mandatory trainings on implicit bias, cultural competency and hire an expert on Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to train staff. The agreement also requires the district to hold two community forums per year on school climate and student behavior and recognize Black History Month and National Hispanic Heritage Month.
South Kern residents advocating for representation on KHSD school board.
We are proud of our shared commitment to communities, but now we find ourselves in another battle with KHSD. This time it’s about voting boundaries and making sure these lines are drawn fairly to create better representation for the families and students in KHSD.
Any type of elected official–from city council member to mayor to senator to whatever–needs to really understand his or her constituents to best represent them. Ideally, the office holder should live in the same community as the families and folks they serve.
Currently, KHSD has a serious problem when it comes to equitable representation. According to a recent story in the Bakersfield Californian, three of the five board members live within a few miles of one another in the northwest area of Bakersfield. Meanwhile, the rural areas of Arvin, Lamont and Weedpatch do not have a single person from their area on the KHSD school board.
Change, however, is on the way, but we are not happy with this change so far. Recently, the KHSD trustees approved a plan that prioritizes maintaining boundaries that preserve incumbency over communities of interest. The new map was rubberstamped later that week by the Kern County Committee on School District Organization
A recent op ed by Matt Ross, one of our allies in this fight, wrote, “you don’t need to be a political insider to know that at the heart of every redistricting fight is political power. Those who have the power want to keep it. And, if you have the power and authority to draw the districts, then you have the power to select your voters, rather than the voters selecting you.”
This strikes at the heart of the issue. The redistricting plan offered by the Dolores Huerta Foundation and supported by many other prominent community groups from Kern County–all partners of Building Healthy Communities Kern–does a much better job of taking into account “communities of interest,” which is an integral part of drawing boundaries that are more equitable. Yes, it’s important to have two majority Latino trustee areas, but the concept of communities of interest is much more than ethnicity. The proposed maps also focused on other factors like geography, religion and economics. By focusing on creating communities of interest, we are more likely to have a representative who can really hear and respect community voice.
We may have suffered a temporary setback, but the key now is to make sure that community residents are aware of the boundary changes and the new opportunities new leadership can bring to underrepresented communities.
Also, let’s remember that the 2020 Census is on the horizon, and school boards will be required to redraw lines based on the decennial population count. We need to ensure that everyone in Kern county is counted, as there is so much at stake for our communities.