Questions Weren’t Directly About Ethnicity – and Let’s Remember Gilroy’s Heritage

Dear Editor,
I have not spoken to other Gilroy School Board members about
their votes in the selection process to fill Dr. TJ Owen’s vacant
seat, so I am speaking as an individual board member.
Dear Editor,

I have not spoken to other Gilroy School Board members about their votes in the selection process to fill Dr. TJ Owen’s vacant seat, so I am speaking as an individual board member.

Everyone at the study session when this process was outlined knows I was strongly against individual questions to candidates because I predicted that it would be used to attack individual candidates with loaded questions. It was that way in the last board election when Denise Apuzzo, Doug Meier, Jackie Stevens and other members of the Academic Alliance used this to their advantage to forward the AA candidates fortunes. Jaime Rosso, a member of the committee to write the format for the selection process, also was apparently against individual questions, due, perhaps, to his experience in the last debate.

It was a painfully flawed debate, and patently unfair the questions asked of Bob Kraemer about closed-session matters he couldn’t legally discuss, and other questions used to frame candidates in a certain light while allowing other candidates to skip difficult topics. When you enter a debate with individual questions, you’d better know your weaknesses well and be prepared for them, because they WILL hit you with those questions. Count on it.

When Jaime Rosso was asked, “Do you think the board should include women since there are currently no women on the board?” Mr. Rosso did not cry out about being singled out with a “sexist” question. He understood that was the nature of that debate, and that question was considered a legitimate question about the role of women being represented in the governance of the district. I consider the question about Hispanic representation on the board to fall into this category. It’s a legitimate question. When dealing with representative government, it is a legitimate question to ask if the government is truly representing its constituents.

I thought it was critical to film this meeting and our vote. I think that was the right move. Every citizen of Gilroy can check everything you have read about this meeting against the record. It’s on tape available at Gilroy Unified School District Office, and I hope on Public Access TV. Please watch the meeting and decide for yourself.

After reviewing the tape of the meeting, it was pointed out to me that I had misquoted Mr. Heisey in my initial draft of this letter. It’s important to correct such misstatements and I apologize for making that error. The value of that record is that each person can check the facts for themselves.

Denise Apuzzo wrote, “At least two people questioned Mr. Heisey about his ethnicity.” I don’t recall any candidate being asked directly about their ethnicity. Watch the tape and decide for yourself. Mr. Heisey has stated that he thought the question he was asked about the representation of Hispanics on the board was racist and inappropriate. He states he didn’t answer that question with his true opinion, which baffles me. It’s a real issue. The fact that it wasn’t seen as a real issue speaks volumes about that candidate.

Jackie Stevens said, “They just wanted a Hispanic. It was a scar on us.” Mr. Heisey wrote, “For the last several years, the majority of the top people in the GUSD administration have been people with Hispanic last names. Perhaps it’s time for the Hispanic community to hold its leaders responsible for this continuing problem.”

First of all, I don’t think this is a true statement, but it does display an alarming paranoia about Hispanics. He also stated, “I will never look at the Hispanic community the same after last night.” It’s disturbing that he feels the need to look at a segment of the community with any prejudices. It further points out why I feel I made the correct vote. Some members of the Academic Alliance seem to have real issues with Hispanics. Denise Apuzzo wrote in her column about the selection of the new high school principal, “It’s shocking that they’d select a white male.” It wasn’t shocking to me at all. Why would race or gender ever be an issue? It seems to be a real issue to some members of the Academic Alliance, and asking them about their potential biases when they seek to represent the community is also a legitimate question.

Mr. Aguirre seemed very comfortable addressing issues related to Hispanic students, culture, and families. That is an obvious need within our district. When we as a board decided parent involvement was a high priority, we took on the responsibility of reaching out to all parents. Mr. Aguirre seemed more at ease reaching out to, and discussing, Hispanic culture and Spanish-speaking families. On several of the questions this difference led me to lean toward seeing Mr. Aguirre as the stronger candidate. With both candidates so well qualified, and giving such good answers, it was probably the difference in my vote. To me, this was the one aspect of the interview that decided my vote.

When Mr. Heisey stated he wasn’t comfortable moving resources between groups of students, he really missed the role of the board member. We are directed by our federal and state government to report achievement by race, economic status and many other factors. We are required to move resources between groups of students annually to attempt to meet the needs of all students and families. It’s a major part of the job.

I would encourage all of Gilroy to watch the meeting and decide for yourselves. It’s an educational look at governance, our community, the groups fighting for political power and the overall harmony within Gilroy. Yes, there are a lot of legitimate issues being raised, and maybe it’s time we looked in the mirror and faced ourselves.

Lastly, I gave the commentary to last night’s board meeting and reminded the audience that Gilroy’s history begins with the marriage of a white man to a Hispanic woman. Our legacy is one of harmony and family shared between whites and Hispanics. In every family, tension can arise. But if these tensions are dealt with in the spirit of understanding, tolerance and respect, then harmony can be restored.

Dave McRae, Gilroy