The unofficial dividing line for the two sides: I-10 running through the district.
With two boys in the district, Carla Cooper-Molano has seen the battle scars, and she wants someone on the school board who represents her family living north of I-10.
“If I communicate to the board, these are my needs, this is what I need, this is what my community at school needs, they are drowned by a much larger vested interest from the south,” said Cooper-Molano.
Cooper-Molano said the majority of SBISD students come from lower-income, working-class families, whose struggles range from paying rent to buying school supplies, to putting food on the table every night.
The disconnect comes when you look at the makeup of the current SBISD school board. According to a recently filed federal civil rights lawsuit, the majority of SBISD’s board members live south of I-10, in more affluent and less diverse neighborhoods. In fact, a person of color has never won a seat on the school board. According to the district’s own data, SBISD’s student body is 59% Hispanic, and 27% white.
The lawsuit alleges that having every school board member elected “at-large,” meaning they represent the entire district instead of neighborhoods, violates the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it dilutes the voting power of minorities. The plaintiff who filed the suit is Virginia Elizondo, a former teacher at SBISD with a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership. Elizondo ran twice for the school board, most recently in 2021. This time, she came up short against Chris Earnest, a Memorial area consultant.
Elizondo and supporters of the lawsuit are asking for single-member districts to be drawn. Under this scenario, board members will be elected to represent specific areas of the district, not the entire district. It’s similar to how the House of Representatives elects its members, and how Houston ISD elects its school board members. Houston City Council, for example, has a hybrid model. There are five at-large seats in addition to the district seats.
Nina Perales, the vice president of the Latino legal rights organization Legal Services for MALDEF, has fought similar battles in other cities across Texas. She explains that the plaintiff will need to show the courts there is no opportunity for minorities to elect a candidate of their choice.
“If the majority of voters consistently prefer one candidate, and minority voters consistently prefer another candidate, it’s simple math. The majority is always going to outvote the minority in every single seat,” said Perales.
See here for some background, and here for some demographic data about SBISD. The fight is contentious in part because a loud contingent of SBISD parents from the wealthy part of the district don’t think that the SBISD board is opposing it strongly enough, and they want to have one of them added as a defendant in the lawsuit. If the plaintiffs win, past history suggests they will be able to elect someone to the Board; a recent example cited in the story is Richardson ISD, in the Dallas area. I don’t know what the litigation schedule is – these things can take years to resolve – but I’ll keep an eye on it.