“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.” – George Orwell, “1984”
At the risk of overstating the issue, we have to wonder what six of the seven local school board members are so afraid of.
After all, the residents of the South triad aren’t launching a coup d’etat against the Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees. They just want one dedicated seat at the table. Is that too much to ask?
Apparently so. Because after months of committee discussions, the board voted 6-1 earlier this month against a proposal to change the way trustees are elected. Instead of all seven school board seats being at-large – meaning anyone can run for them and all voters in the district vote to fill them – as they are now, three would be allocated by triad: one each for South, Central and East.
The other four would remain at-large seats, which would prevent any one area of the district from dominating the conversation and controlling the board.
Seems like a good idea, right? We thought so when we advocated for something similar almost exactly three years ago during a heated community debate about district boundary changes. (We actually took it a step further, though, and said there should be two from each triad and just one at-large member.)
All but one of the four women and three men we have elected to represent ALL of us apparently disagree, though, because they refused to even put the idea out for a 45-day comment period. Their April 6 vote wasn’t supposed to be the final vote on the proposal. That was still to come after the comment period ended.
But apparently they were afraid too many people in the district would support the idea. So rather than find out, they tossed it aside
Why? To hear Trustee Nate Breen tell it, the decision was made in the name of unity. Here’s what he told a Wyoming Tribune Eagle reporter:
“I have a real problem with the proposal because we are a singular school district. To set aside these three different areas, you’re creating constituencies for at least three board members. You’ll have delegates concerned about their voters instead of the district as a whole.”
That’s funny. We’ve watched members of the Cheyenne City Council for decades make decisions they felt were in the best interest of the capital city as a whole, despite the fact the council is divided into three wards, with three council members representing each ward. Very rarely does a council member say, “The people in my ward want me to vote against this proposal.”
The same can be said for the other school board in Laramie County, which has six of its nine members elected by area. We don’t hear complaints of geographic division within LCSD2’s ranks.
Mr. Breen goes on to say, “There’s no history of voter suppression in this town. The only voter suppression is that people in certain areas of town don’t get out and vote. Guaranteeing particular membership on the school board isn’t going to guarantee voter turnout will be better.”
No one said this was an issue of voter suppression. It’s an issue of equal representation. Wait ... no, it’s not even that. Those who live in the South triad are simply asking for ONE guaranteed seat out of seven. Not two. Not four. One.
The irony here is that Mr. Breen should know better. After all, the retired teacher used to lead the “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” program at Cheyenne’s Central High. He has to know there are many reasons people don’t go to the polls, including socioeconomic ones.
He also knows the current board is made up of mostly well-to-do people with deep connections in the community. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Nothing, on the surface, but when none of them live on the south side of town (four of the seven live in the East triad; the other three live in the Central triad), how do they know what needs the parents and students in that area really have? And even if the parents, teachers and principals felt comfortable enough to bring those issues to board meetings, how do they know they will be heard?
We also want to give the current trustees the benefit of the doubt and say this isn’t a race issue. But the fact is a significant percentage of south Cheyenne residents identify as Hispanic or as a member of another non-white minority group. And as proposal advocate Anthony Serrano said, “None of the board members know what it’s like to worry that someone in your family will be deported. They don’t know what it’s like to be called a racial slur. They don’t know what it’s like to be discriminated against for the color of your skin. Having someone who lives on our side of town and realizes what we go through is vital.”
So again we ask, other than losing their seats on the board, what are they afraid of?
The only supporter of the proposal, Trustee Tim Bolin, said it best: “Our school board should reflect our community.” The only board member bold enough to sponsor this proposal twice is absolutely right.
The LCSD1 Board of Trustees should reverse course and put the proposal out for public comment. If there’s enough support, they should pass it. (According to state statute, it wouldn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, so the first election it would impact is 2022.)
To do anything less shows our community these six people don’t really care about the whole district, just protecting their own positions. And that should result in much more board turnover than this proposal would create.