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New Hollister school board members Ben Flores (left) and Elizabeth Martinez
CSEA members Ben Flores (left) and Elizabeth Martinez at their first meeting as trustees on the Hollister school board (Dec. 11, 2012).

CSEA chapter sends the Grinch home for the holidays


A year ago, members of Hollister Chapter 625 were under siege by a school board that was determined to cut classified salaries and benefits and demand concession after concession from its employees. In protest, CSEA members packed a school board meeting and voiced their opposition to the “Grinch of Hollister.” What a difference a year makes.

The energized chapter put a plan into action that resulted in a stunning turnaround this November. The chapter backed three school employees to run for election – two of them active CSEA members and all of them dedicated members of the Hollister community. Working together, the CSEA candidates won the election and ousted the former board members sending the Grinch home for the holidays this year.

Just three days ago, the new board members were sworn into office:  Ben Flores, a groundskeeper from Milpitas Unified, Elizabeth Martinez, a migrant clerk and health aid at San Benito High School and Lupe Navarro a retired fiscal manager from Hollister. In one of the first orders of business, the school board selected a new president, CSEA member Elizabeth Martinez.

“We’re truly excited about what happened,” said Cecilia Rodriguez, Chapter President of Hollister 625. “We’re looking forward to our three candidates being on the board. We know they’re going to make the right decisions.”

Rodriguez had little to smile about a year ago. The District had gutted the classified staff by reducing the work year and closing its libraries and computer labs. Employees agreed to the concessions in order to preserve their health and welfare benefits, but to no avail. The school board decided to move forward with an additional $220,000 in cuts to classified employees’ wages and benefits just before last year’s holiday break.

“After the school board meeting in December of last year, the chapter leadership decided that they needed to do something,” said Association President Allan Clark. “They had had enough.”

The Chapter participated in CSEA’s Membership Unity Program (MUP), where they developed a plan to make their voice heard through the political process.  The chapter as a whole became active and rallied behind the campaign for change in their school and community.

“I think people wanted change,” said Lupe Navarro, who was born and raised in Hollister. “People went through the last two years seeing cuts that really hurt their kids and the community. It showed the school district wasn’t strong and there was a lack of trust.”

Elizabeth Martinez said she loves the Hollister community, but was saddened to see the devastation in the school district.

“When there are cuts here, everybody feels it,” she said.

The process to make change in Hollister took nearly a year. The chapter mobilized through its MUP training and worked with its candidates to support them in the campaign. As working-class members of the community, they related to the voters and spoke with them face to face about their concerns.

Ben Flores attended CSEA’s Leadership Academy, where he gained the confidence to run for office and make a difference in his community.

“CSEA helped tremendously,” Flores said. “It prepared me in getting the knowledge that I needed, teaching me to use my voice as a leader and to become a strong leader.”

Now, Flores, Martinez and Navarro have officially become leaders as they take the helm of a much different looking Hollister school board.

“The thing that stunned everybody was the incumbents felt they were safe and there was no way that anybody could take them out,” Clark said. “What they underestimated was the power of the people. When the school board was looking at the employees, they didn’t look past the employees – at their families, their friends, their neighbors, and how they were woven into the fabric of the community by being school employees. Once they began mobilizing and talking to people, it became clear that the community wanted a school board that looked like the community. The board that was ousted did not look like the community.”
A New School Board is Coming to Town
At last year's December Hollister school board meeting, CSEA members sang the following song. A year later their holiday wish came true.
You better watch out
You better not pout
Better not hide
I'm telling you why
A new school board is coming to town

We’re making our list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who's fair and who’s not
A new school board is coming to town

We see your budget numbers
We know you have reserves
We know we’ve taken lots of cuts
And we know what we deserve

O, You better watch out
You better not pout
Better not hide
I'm telling you why
A new board is coming to town

Did you know?
There are 64 CSEA members, retirees and staff serving on local school boards and personnel commissions.