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Continental Elementary School District's board discusses the bylaw change Tuesday proposed by the Arizona School Boards Association. 

The Continental Elementary School District’s governing board voted no on a proposal from the Arizona School Boards Association to add an additional seat to allow both a Hispanic and a Native American member to represent the Hispanic-Native American Indian Caucus (HNAIC) at the same time.

The ASBA is a non-profit organization that works with school board members across the state.

The group sent a proposed bylaw change on Sept. 21 to school superintendents and board members explaining that only one seat on the ASBA board is designated for the HNAIC, which rotates every two years between Hispanic and Native American representation. The change would allow a Hispanic and Native American representative simultaneously and requires approval by two-thirds of ASBA’s membership.

During the CESD governing board meeting Tuesday, board members showed a mix of support and opposition. Ultimately, the proposal was voted down, 3-2.

Board member Richard Ulery said the ASBA already has appropriate representation and their board members are voted on by their respective  counties.

“I think it's time for the ASBA to start helping boards learn what we can do to help children progress academically and achieve, and not spend time or resources in allocating board seats on eligibility based on the color of skin,” he said. “Nothing is inclusive about this and this divides people further.”

Member Kelley Allen said this request isn’t about skin color, it’s about ensuring minority voices get to represent the needs of their demographics, not just their county needs.

“Some of the counties have ethnic representatives — they are on the board — but not to represent their special interests, to represent their county's interests,” she said. “These caucus board seats would represent the special interests of their demographics. I'm not worried about an additional voice on the board; I've got confidence in my own discernment and many leaders welcome listening to different types of people.”

Member Stephen Oesterle had a similar sentiment, saying he can and will  represent minority students but he has not “walked in their shoes.”

“It’s kind of a scary thought not to support this issue,” he said.

Some board members spoke to the importance of treating children in their schools with the same care and commitment, regardless of race.

President Andrew McGibbon said he doesn’t think the additional seat on the ASBA would accomplish anything.

“I respect the fact that they (minority students) have unique circumstances — absolutely they do — but, I can knock on the front door of every child and each has unique circumstances,” he said. “In my mind, we better be working 110 percent for everyone.”

Member Shelley Kais also didn’t feel the extra seat was needed, and the discussion was “somewhat disturbing.”

“We don't look at our students as categories. We look at them as people we love, people we want to nurture, that we want to teach, people that we want to grow into a community,” she said. “I think it’s time for all of us to just accept the fact we are dealing with human need and they need to listen to each of us, regardless of race.”

There was a bit of back and forth between members.

Ulery said if there would be a seat for a Hispanic representative and a Native American representative then shouldn’t there also be a seat for other minorities. 

The ASBA Black Caucus already has a seat on the board.

Allen said a no vote would be ignoring the issues, and that if those demographics felt their needs were heard, this request would not be in place.

McGibbon said, “if we vote no, it's not putting up blinders, that's absurd."

Superintendent Roxana Rico-Beaucage said her job is to advocate for all students.

“This item is brought in the same spirit of equity and the purpose of this caucus is to improve educational opportunities for students of color,” she said. “When universities are looking at the graduation rates for minority students it’s 17, 16 percent. If we did have it figured out, our percentages of college graduates would not be what it is.”

Kais, McGibbon and Ulery voted no; Oesterle and Allen voted yes.

School districts have until Dec. 13 to vote. The Sahuarita Unified School District voted to approve the extra seat.

The ASBA’s Board of Directors is made up of five executive officers, 17 county directors (one for every county and two for Pima and Maricopa counties), the chair of the HNAIC and the chair of the ASBA Black Caucus.

Jamie Verwys | 520-547-9728 

Reporter

Reporter Jamie Verwys grew up in Sahuarita and graduated from the high school in 2006. She lives in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2018.

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