This year, Carol Watkins, California City Organizer, helped to organize and establish the first predominantly African-American Vecinos Unidos(Neighbors United) Chapter. DHF has been working closely with youth and parents to address the discipline crisis in the Mojave Unified School District (MUSD). As a result, the district agreed to create an African-American Parent Committee. MUSD has the highest suspension rate of African-American students in the state. A shocking 81% of African American students were suspended or expelled in the 2014-15 school year.
California City Vecinos achieved great victories through parent engagement and advocacy in the LCAP process. Harshly affected by zero-tolerance policies and the pushout of African American students, parents organized and submitted recommendations to MUSD. Among these recommendations were the removal of security resource officers on campus, changing the grading system to make it more fair, increasing funds for cultural awareness, and more. Although not all recommendations were adopted, MUSD has allocated funds towards implicit bias training for teachers, curriculum on the African American experience, and hiring teachers of color.
In May 2018, the Dolores Huerta Foundation (DHF) and Vecinos Unidos(Neighbors United) of Lamont and Arvin pushed for fairer representation on the Kern High School District (KHSD) Board of Trustees. DHF’s new Geographic Information Systems (GIS) team was able to gather population data and develop a variety of maps to present its case for better representation on the KHSD’s Board. DHF’s GIS Analyst developed a map that showcased the Latino’s population growth in Kern County on the school district’s map using information from the American Community Survey. The proposed DHF map highlighted the residence of three trustees, all who live within a three-mile radius from one another in the wealthiest, affluent area of Northwest Bakersfield. These tools helped the community understand how KHSD gerrymandered boundaries which resulted in the centralized power of the white minority, thereby systematically denying the just representation of historically disenfranchised communities of color. The DHF and communities attended board meetings to advocate for an additional Latino-majority district and the grouping of communities of interest to prevent further gerrymandering and to distribute power fairly across communities served by KHSD. The maps created by the DHF’s GIS team were presented at board meetings to counter the maps being presented by the KHSD. In the end, the Kern County Committee on School District Organization (KCCSDO), the entity with the final say, voted to implement a school district map that was proposed by the KHSD Board of Trustees and made no major changes to decentralizing power concentrated in Northwest Bakersfield. The DHF and Vecinosattained a second Latino-majority district, although more needs to be done to end underrepresentation on boards that impact the education inequities in Kern County.
The DHF staff and 136 volunteers collected more than 3,000 signatures for the petition to qualify the Schools and Communities First Initiative for the November 2020 ballot, surpassing its organizational goal. The DHF in partnership with California Calls hopes to fund our schools and local communities by closing California’s massive corporate loophole. The initiative, if passed, will increase state revenue by making corporations pay their fair share of commercial property taxes. California is the 5th largest economy in the world; we should be able to pay for world-class schools, health care for all, safe neighborhoods, and affordable housing. Closing the corporate loophole will reclaim $11 billion every year for our schools and communities. This means we can restore our emergency responder services, parks and libraries, health clinics and trauma centers, housing development and services for the homeless, infrastructure, and local schools and community colleges.