Stony Creek Joint Union School District finalizes district borders; Native Americans say board member made racist comments, call for resignation
The two-year process to redistrict the Stony Creek Joint Union School trustee areas has come to an end with Native American community members near Elk Creek calling for a school board member to resign for what they felt were racist and insensitive comments.
The school board finalized its new district boundaries Feb. 12 and will meet on Monday to take the final step in asking the state to waive the requirement changing the trustee selection process from "at-large" elections to "by trustee area" elections without first going to the voters.
The school board last week listened to a formal complaint filed by Tribal Chairman Ron Kirk against Trustee Chonne Murphy, who was not at the meeting due to illness.
They also heard complaints from Grindstone parents who regularly attend school board meetings.
The complaint stems from Murphy's opposition to changing the election process from "at-large" to voting by trustee area, which will guarantee that one trustee on the five-member school board will be a member of the Native American community.
The new boundaries of near- equal populations of about 157 people were adopted Jan. 12 and will place Grindstone Rancheria in its own district upon final approval by the Glenn County Board of Education.
Murphy said Tuesday she opposed changing "at large" elections only because of the costs involved, not because it would guarantee that a Native American will have a voice on the school board.
Kirk, in his complaint, however, said Murphy's statements at the Jan. 8 regarding whether the Native American community would fulfill their duty to seek election was insensitive and that Murphy did not understand that the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 puts school districts with large minority populations at risk for lawsuits when their voices are diluted by "at-large" elections.
"She does not represent the entire district and/or community at large," Kirk said. "She does not understand fair representation, redistricting or voting at large, and that it is law. She does not understand that her perceived racist comments can and will get the district in trouble."
Murphy confirmed she expressed concerns at the meeting in question.
At the meeting, Murphy said, "What if they don't follow through" and elect a board member, referring to Grindstone district.
Murphy said she didn't mean to offend anyone with the comment.
Aaston Bill, who attended the Jan. 8 meeting, said Murphy's comments insinuated that somehow the Grindstone Community was lower than the Stonyford or Elk Creek communities, which also make up the Stony Creek school district.
"I was highly offended and saddened," she said.
Bill also read a letter from Aleta Kirk, who said she felt betrayed by Murphy, whose election she supported.
In her letter, Kirk stated, "We have educated people in our community that have jobs, and are able to sit on the school board and learn just like you did, but you didn't look at that."
Murphy said she has no intention of stepping down from the school board, and she hopes to address the complaints with the Grindstone residents when the matter is placed on a scheduled board meeting in which she is in attendance.
"We all have our opinions," Murphy said. "I wanted to keep the voting at large because I didn't want to see $75,000 go to the lawyers. (Grindstone) has put two people up, and we currently have a member from Grindstone on the board now, so I didn't see changing it as necessary."
Murphy said she was saddened that her opinion on the issue was taken as racist or insensitive.
She said she also thinks that with the school district having so many issues to address, such as funding, Common Core implementation and school attendance, it is counterproductive to see school board meetings constantly consumed with bickering.
"School board meetings are for the board to conduct their business in public," she said. "They are not public meetings where we have to fight and bicker over everything."
Trustee Ken Swearinger, who is the first member of the Grindstone community to sit on the school board, said the situation now between the Tribe and Murphy has placed him on the fence.
"I've never felt discrimination from this board," he said. "I thought I had broken the ice, and we crossed that barrier."
Although he agreed that Murphy's statements were insensitive, he said he hopes the school board and community can move past it and go forward.