Madera School District Being Sued

August 21, 2008 7:40:35 PM PDT
The Madera Unified School District is being sued on behalf of Latino voters who claim the district's election system violates their civil rights.Attorneys say the voting system Madera Unified uses discriminates against Latino voters. Now they've filed a lawsuit to stop the school board election that's scheduled for November 4th and to require the district switch to a different system.

Robert Rubin: "We are filing a lawsuit against the Madera Unified School District for its violation of the California Voting Rights Act."

The lawyer's committee for civil rights says Madera Unified's election system has consistently created a school board that does not represent the community it serves. Right now, only one of the seven members is Latino, while 82 percent of students in the district are Hispanic.

Carlos Uranga: "This is about the future of Madera ... "

Carlos Uranga is one of three plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. Uranga has run unsuccessfully for a seat on the school board twice, but says this legal action is about much more than his own personal experience.

Carlos Uranga: "We need to say to our people that their participation is welcome and that Madera Unified as an institution will make sure they have an equal opportunity in their attempt in securing a seat in the governing board."

Uranga says the problem is that the district uses an at-large voting system. That means every voter gets to vote for all seven seats on the board. The lawyers committee says Latinos only make up 44 percent of Madera Unified's voting population, so their choices can be overruled by the majority. That's why the lawsuit calls for a switch to a district system.

Robert: "Under a district system, one is able to vote for their own district member in which the member must live and in which you must live as a voter."

Madera Unified spokesperson Jake Bragonier says the district is waiting to review the lawsuit, but has not noticed a problem in the past.

Jake Bragonier: "We do feel like it's been fair, it's the way the majority of school districts in the immediate area and around the state conduct their elections."

The lawyers committee admits more than 90 percent of California school districts use the at-large voting system.

But now it will be up to a judge to decide whether Madera Unified must make a change.

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