As it turned out, the big winners were Lubbock Independent School District students — although they might not have known it at the time.
More than two decades ago, the LISD changed the way school board members were elected, moving from an at-large system to a combination of single-member district and at-large representation. The move came in response to a 1985 lawsuit that was resolved out of court with little rancor.
“The leadership on the school board and in the administration at that time was very sensitive to children receiving a great education,” said Gary Boren, who was the youngest board member at the time. “We felt like our cause was to take every dollar and focus on education of every student without getting caught up in litigation, especially in a lawsuit we might not win anyway.”
Bidal Aguero, one of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the at-large system in place at that time did not give everyone equal access to government, which led to under-representation of minorities on the board.
“The main reason for the suit was equal access,” said Aguero, who has owned and operated the Hispanic newspaper El Editor for 33 years. “At that time, we saw it was futile on our part to try and elect our representatives. The only way to get representation on the school board was to go to single-member districts.”
Originally, a lawsuit seeking single-district representation was filed in 1978 and was dismissed at the request of the plaintiffs pending resolution of a similar case against the Lubbock City Council, according to an A-J article. The city was ordered by a federal court to conduct single-member district elections in 1983.
E.C. Leslie, LISD superintendent at the time, said school representatives carefully watched that case. The eventual ruling, coupled with a protracted discrimination case against the district, convinced the LISD to avoid another lengthy legal skirmish.
E. C. Leslie was LISD superintendent when the single-member district concept was adopted.
“Going to single-member districts was something we recognized had to be done,” Leslie said. “It was happening everywhere at that time, and we could see very clearly that it would be futile to resist. We also had been involved in a desegregation suit since 1970, so we were in the midst of what seemed to be a larger issue.”
Boren said the LISD had a point in its favor at the time, which caused the district to consider going to court. Unlike the City Council, two minority candidates had won citywide elections and earned spots on the LISD board. Joan Ervin, a black, was elected in 1970 and re-elected ’72, and Jose Ramirez, a Hispanic, was elected to two terms and was a board member at the time of the lawsuit, according to an A-J article.
“We thought something in our favor at that time was the fact that we had had minorities on the board, and we had one on our board at that time,” Leslie said. “We recognized, though, the change was inevitable, and we were able to reach a final outcome without a great deal of contentiousness.”
Boren agreed, saying too much was at stake as far as the school district’s future was concerned.
“It was a unique time in the city’s history,” he said. “We probably could have fought it. Or you can say, 'We trust that the people of Lubbock have good hearts, and everyone wants their children to get a great education kindergarten through 12th grade and be treated in a fair manner. Let’s do it and find a system that will work.’ ”
Arriving at what would be considered a fair system consumed much of the conversation.
Leslie said a number of options were considered, ranging from all trustees being elected on a single-member basis to combinations.
Eventually, a compromise was struck with five being elected from single-member districts that are parallel to the City Council districts and two being elected on an at-large basis.
“The real discussion about the single-member districts concerned configuration,” Leslie said. “We ended up with a 5-2 configuration, which was fairly favorable.”
That sentiment was echoed by board members at the time.
“This is the very best compromise we could work out without spending a great deal of the taxpayers’ money,” board member Martha Farmer said in an A-J story. “It’s important that we all go into this with a positive attitude and a continued attitude of working together for the good of the children.”
“It’s very workable, and the citizens of the community need to stand behind it,” Board President Monte Hasie said in the same story. “We need to keep an outstanding school system like we have now.”
Now, two decades later, Aguero said the plan, approved by federal Judge Halbert O. Woodward and in place prior to the 1986 elections, served its purpose.“The lawyers did a tremendous job accomplishing the goals that we wanted accomplished,” Aguero said. “We were pretty satisfied the way it was set up at that time.”
Tom Johnson, who served as LISD’s attorney at the time, said the school district’s decisions always kept the best interest of the community and LISD students in mind.
“Our board and our administration were very sensitive to all the issues,” he said. “They approached it with a very workable attitude and we were able to negotiate a plan that was approved by the district court at a time when not all of them were.
“Looking back, a lot of those cases were tried, and very few got the results we were able to get. In addition to that, the plan was implemented with minimal disruption and it worked out very well.”
Leslie said a number of people deserved credit for achieving that kind of resolution.
“One thing I noticed prior to and after the change,” he said. “Those who were elected, whether it was on an at-large basis or from a single-member district, always kept the district’s best interest in mind. They had constituencies to answer to, but they kept their interest focused on the school district as a whole.”
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