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Blog: Why I'm Voting 'No' On Measure A

Measure A is a huge mistake, and would be an irreversible step backward for PUSD.

Rejected in concept by local voters in 2000, Measure A would divide the Pasadena Unified School District into seven so-called sub-districts. Its primary purpose is to promote greater minority representation on the Board of Education although its advocates allege that it will result in greater democracy, more “local control,” cheaper elections and more access.

Actually, its only guaranteed effect will be to significantly reduce the voting rights of all voters and blocs thereof, wherever they live.

Under the current system of “at large” elections, citizens get to vote for (or against) all seven board members whenever they are up for election, and to affect the balance of power on the board every two years.

Under Measure A, voters will be limited to voting for one board member only, every four years – a single member from a single sub-district whose boundaries have been drawn in large part based on a committee’s perception of its overall racial/ethnic characteristics.

Such elections will ensure that six of the seven board members will have no political incentive to even pick up the phone when voters from outside their sub-district call whereas members elected at large have to develop a district wide constituency.

Measure A will result in racially-oriented, ward-based “what’s in it for me” politics and politicians.

The proposed sub-districts each contain about 29,000 residents. Three (and arguably four) of them are based almost wholly on perceptions of race/ethnicity despite ever-increasing diversity within each of them. These boundaries will exacerbate racial tensions between blacks and Hispanics at a time when they share many of the same neighborhoods, albeit in different proportions.

The Black population of Pasadena and Altadena has declined precipitously since the mid 1970’s when there were nearly 11,000 black students. Today, there are fewer than 3,000.  Over the same period, the number of Hispanic students has grown from around 2,700 to over 11,000.

However, the black community still has greater numbers of registered voters and Hispanics are unlikely to elect one of “their own” for many years. The one Hispanic currently on the school board – currently elected at large – is not likely to prevail in his prospective sub-district!

The margin of victory in at-large PUSD elections is typically four to five percent, a margin which enables any group of voters that gets its act together to have a significant impact on every election and board member.

Measure A’s “one vote every four years for a single member” requirement will disenfranchise whole blocs of voters regardless of race, political persuasion or current “community of interest”, the real places where people live.

For example, Altadena’s overall electoral power will be divided by its own characteristics, east and west of Lake, and in part diluted by a significant bloc of East Pasadena voters. Sierra Madre’s voters now have great influence on district-wide races but it will be out-voted in its sub-district by the much more numerous residents of eastern and southeastern Pasadena.

Measure A’s boundaries also fail to reflect the distribution of students and schools. The three “minority districts” account for over 70% of the students. The district’s long-standing open enrollment policies further complicate matters of “representation”.

Greater access to local voters? 

Given the geographic expanse of four of the proposed sub-districts, voters are not much more likely to have a board member walk the streets where they live than under the current system. And, it’s not that difficult to get a board member’s ear (or scalp) to affect board decisions.

To get elected in an at-large election, potential board members have to develop a broad constituency – before they are elected – to engage voters throughout the district, wherever they live, whatever their census profile. They are, in effect, vetted by the whole community and, therefore, have greater experience, credibility and legitimacy than would single sub-district members. If you doubt this, ask Mr. Bogaard!

However, the city’s electoral practices are not a model for the schools. City council members deal primarily with a set of finite matters – police and fire protection, water and power, traffic control, etc. which are of particular concern to particular neighborhoods or residents. School board members rarely deal with issues which are unique to a particular area of the district. Their obligations are limited by law to matters of policy and oversight, to ensure that the district’s $180 million budget is allocated to meet the needs of all students district-wide.

Currently, each winning at-large board member gets 7,000 to 8,000 votes from a broad political base across the district. Given historically consistent turnouts of about 13 percent of eligible voters for school board elections, winning sub-district members will prospectively have the support of as few as 1,000 voters, with nowhere to turn for four years if their choice proves unwise!

In fact, four sub-district members with as few as 4,000 votes between them – fewer than a single losing board member now gets – could take over the district, its budget and its future, to serve ends which though not yet defined are likely to be dominated by ward-level politics.

Measure A’s proponents argue that elections will be less costly. Maybe, and maybe not! West Pasadena City Council member Steve Madison spent in excess of $220,000 to retain his council seat in the last election, inside a sub-district 20% smaller than those proposed by Measure A.

Successful at-large candidates for the school board typically have a long history of involvement and experience in the schools and community. It does take money to run – although not nearly as much as Measure A’s advocates allege – but money doesn’t necessarily prevail against well-known candidates with an earned district-wide reputation.

Make it cheap to run and you may get “local” candidates who run merely to win the one real perk enjoyed by the school board members, a comprehensive family health insurance program worth at least $20,000 a year!  Or, outside political groups could try to “buy” a seat on the cheap!

Measure A represents a significant step backward for PUSD and the increasingly diverse communities it serves. Forced to integrate its schools as a result of its own intransigence in 1970, now is not the time to force the district to divide itself based largely on race as Measure A would have it rendered. Now is not the time to reverse 40 plus years of progress.

Measure A would be irreversible but it is NOT inevitable. Vote no on Measure A.

Bill Bibbiani is a former PUSD Board of Education member.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Spin Dreier May 28, 2012 at 08:47 PM
I am curious, Richard. Why did you assume Aladeen was talking about you?
Richard May 29, 2012 at 12:18 AM
I was only partially assuming that Aladeen's insult was directed at me, which is why I simply stated facts that removed me from the group he was naming. I also didn't assume he was *only* talking about me(or even was definitely talking about me), hence the line "whomever you're referring to" And, considering that this is a thread wherein I've already been called a buffoon, a purveyor of supercilious twaddle, a member of the PUSD apologist choir (and that one, based on the treatment I've received at the hands of the PUSD in general and the membership of the current board in particular, I found delightfully hilarious), and being told that I might prove capable of picking up a clue or two, honestly, it seemed a reasonable assumption to make.
Chris Koerber May 31, 2012 at 06:33 PM
I agree with the author. This following is a copy of a post I left on today's (5/31) pro-A blog: 'I have been against Measure A from the get-go. Its' a terrible idea in many ways. The Pasadena Star-News agrees in today's editorial: Our View: No on Measure A for the PUSD It can be found at http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/ci_20744625/our-view-no-measure-pusd. They say: "...Measure A's passage could create problems of its own. Now, if a constituent wants a board member's ear, he's got it - as a voter. If elected by neighborhood, a trustee from Sierra Madre would not be answerable to a resident of San Rafael - or Altadena, or anywhere else. The Pasadena schools don't need to add Balkanization to their problems. They need to focus on solutions. We strongly urge a "no" vote on Measure A."'
Richard May 31, 2012 at 07:45 PM
http://www.pasadenasun.com/opinion/tn-pas-0527-yes-on-measure-a,0,6364146.story
Karmann Ghia June 02, 2012 at 07:18 AM
Pedro Seco and the Usual Suspects want to keep their control of the Board. Pretty disgusting how they manipulate the uninformed and stretch the boundaries of truth. If Seco and the Suspects truly wanted to be in compliance with The Voters Rights Act.... the Political professor would have helped long ago. Instead, we have the appearance that they want to make things right with sudo representation. The only time I've EVER seen Roberta Martinez speak up for Latino children..... NEVER. A couple times she walked up to the mic and I thought finally!!... Only to then see her self promoting some parade that she appears as the co-grand marshall every year. Gimme a break Seco and Company. You guys are done. You've caused enough damage. Too many kids have failed under your orchestration and YOU NOW WANT TO PUSH Boundaries convenient for your continued control?!!

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