Palm Springs Unified School District Creates Opportunity for New Voice
DESERT HOT SPRINGS, CA – It has been 15 years since a resident of Desert Hot Springs served on the Palm Springs Unified School District Board. Representation by a city resident is on the near horizon when the School District switches from at-large elections to elections by district. One district serves Desert Hot Springs and the immediate area surrounding.
The district of Desert Hot Springs guarantees a seat on the School Board representing taxpayers in the city and the school children in Desert Hot Springs that make up 30% of the school district’s overall school-age population.
That’s the good news. What are less than favorable are the boundary lines that were drawn to create the Desert Hot Springs school board district. These lines were drawn without public input from Desert Hot Springs residents and limit that district with a significantly lower voting population compared to the other four districts.
The last local resident to serve on the Palm Springs Unified School District board was Richard Cromwell. Fifteen years ago the population of Palm Springs exceeded that of Desert Hot Springs, guaranteeing other Valley cities were well represented and Desert Hot Springs was not.
Although Cromwell worked hard as an advocate for Desert Hot Springs he was an anomaly. Appointed to fill a vacancy on the board, Cromwell was unable to retain his seat in the general election.
Although the population of Desert Hot Springs has now grown to nearly 30,000 the sheer number of registered voters in the city pales in comparison to those in the city of Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Rancho Mirage, all cities included in the Palm Springs Unified School District.
The change to district elections is designed to cure that. A state law aimed at ending discrimination was cited as the reason changing to district elections. District elections are intended to equalize local representation.
District Election Concept Approved by City Council
The Desert Hot Springs city council voted on January 7 to approve the concept of district elections but also took steps to notify the School District election board that it did not agree with the boundaries that had been drawn for the city and strongly rejecting the district map as presented.
“Our council applauds district elections for the school board. It is long overdue,” said Councilman Russell Betts, “We do have concerns with district lines that need to be revisited in order to better identify and serve the people of our city. And the council has taken formal action on that issue.”
Creation of these initial district map boundaries was done by an independent contractor utilizing demographics necessary to meet specific needs of balancing registered voters, racial distribution and other factors that were mandated. However there were no open public meetings held in the Desert Hot Springs soliciting public input to define district boundaries.
Those meetings were held in Palm Springs with no special notice given to the people living in Desert Hot Springs, no notice given to parents of school children and no notice given to the city council.
The final decision was approved by a 4-1 vote at the school board meeting of December 26, 2013 held at the District board room …in Palm Springs. School Board Trustee Justin Blake who lives in the city of Rancho Mirage explained that he voted no because there was no need for anyone on the school board to represent Desert Hot Springs.
Blake said he understood that a state law required district elections but disagreed with it. Blake said he did not expect that his objection would make any different so he voted no as a matter of principle, adding that he would not be seeking re-election so the final decision would mean nothing to him.
Another local school district followed a different and more generous approach. In east Coachella Valley the Desert Sands Unified School District was first to choose to replace at-large elections and used the process as Palm Springs in determining their district boundaries.
The only mention provided people of Desert Hot Springs was a small notice published in The Desert Sun and on the school district website. No meetings about this matter were ever held in Desert Hot Springs. The city’s local newspaper and online news websites serving the city were not notified.
Neither was there any announcement about the school district’s pending district boundary agenda known to have been made to any school staff, teachers, students and parents in Desert Hot Springs.
Ironically the people of Desert Hot Springs had no voice in creating a voice for the people of Desert Hot Springs.
City’s Representation Changing
For many years the city of Desert Hot Springs languished as the poor step-child in local political circles. Today the city is united with all the rest of the cities of the Coachella Valley with the same county supervisor and the same congressional representative. It was not always that way.
Just a few years ago Desert Hot Springs was gerrymandered into the 5th Supervisor District of Riverside County and in the district of Congressman Jerry Lewis and politically cut off from the Coachella Valley. The rest of the Valley was in the 4th Supervisor District and in the district of Congresswoman Mary Bono.
The implementation of School District elections increases participation of the people of Desert Hot Springs in matters concerning spending public funds for schools, allocation of programs and facilities plus adds a local voice in defining the future of education in and around the city.
The issue of school board district elections – with the current map – was passed by the Palm Springs Unified School District and Desert Sands School District yet it remains to be ratified by the Riverside County School District Election Board which meets January 23 at 4pm at the District board room in Palm Springs at 980 East Tahquitz.
If approved by the Election Board then candidates for District trustees will campaign for the general election of November 2014. If it is decided that boundaries deserve being redrawn then changes must be approved by the local school district then sent back for final approval by the Election Board.
Serving Up Two More Local Representatives
There are two remaining elected bodies “representing Desert Hot Springs” still holding on to at-large elections that will soon be facing challenges from the same state law changing the elections of our local school boards.
Sooner or later both the Desert Healthcare District and the Desert Water Agency will also adopt new district elections insuring that the people of Desert Hot Springs can express their right to elect a local voice and enjoy the freedom of democratic representation.
For over 40 years Dean has been published in a variety of small newspapers and magazines. As publisher he founded an alternative city weekly newspaper in 2008 and published over 200 uninterrupted issues over 4 years to over 20,000 readers via 800 locations (and online) before selling the business.
Dean is a Master Carpenter and the author of the biography of Hilda M Gray, desert homesteader.
In 2014 he was appointed Planning Commissioner for the city of Desert Hot Springs, California.
Dean M Gray is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors and lives in Desert Hot Springs, California.