Apr 26, 2012 7:00 PM by Ariel Wesler

SMBSD board member wants meetings translated in Spanish

A highly controversial school board member in the Santa Maria Bonita School District is making waves again. Recently, the school board voted to videotape its board meetings.

Board member Will Smith says proposed the meetings also be translated in Spanish, but so far district leaders have denied his request.

The superintendent and other board members say Smith is the only one who has brought up this issue. They say they haven't seen any kind of demand from the community for school board meetings to be run in Spanish.

Nearly 90 percent of students in the Santa Maria Bonita School District identify as Latinos, but their school board meetings are only conducted in English. Smith wants to change that.

"We're talking about millions of dollars that are being brought in because of just the shear number in the population of the Latino community. Surely, they ought to have to access to the business of the district in Spanish and English," he said.

Superintendent Phil Alvarado told KSBY News he's never heard that request before. He says historically, board meetings have not been well attended. He says the issues parents really care about relate to activities at school and at home.

"Going over developer fees, going over school construction issues is a little different than 'How can I help Johnny and Susie be better math students?' Alvarado said.

"We don't have any problem going to the Latino community and asking them in Spanish or English to vote for our bond, so if you're going to ask me for my money, fair taxation, we should have equal representation," Smith exclaimed.

Though most of the students in the district have limited English speaking skills, Alvarado warns it doesn't mean parents do not understand any English.

"I think that would be a big assumption to think that 8,000 of our parents do not speak any English at all," he said. "I don't think that's the case."

The district is not alone. The Santa Maria City Council agendas are also only in English, despite having a 70 percent Latino population. The city also says most of its Latino residents understand English.

In both meetings, translators are available, if requested in advance.

The law does require all elections materials to be printed in both Spanish and English depending on the demographics of each county. Santa Barbara County prints in both languages. San Luis Obispo County does not.

According to the California Constitution though, English is still the official state language.


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