Martinez Unified board member called out for AC comments

Byby Elissa Harrington KGO logo
Monday, April 6, 2015
Martinez Unified board member called out for AC comments
During a school board meeting last week Board member Denise Elsken made comments that quickly upset some parents.

MARTINEZ, Calif. (KGO) -- Parents in Martinez are demanding an explanation from a longtime member of their school board for making comments they call insensitive.

During a school board meeting last week, board member Denise Elsken chimed in on why one elementary school needs air conditioning more than another. However, she says her words were manipulated -- possibly by a former board member.

"I think somebody who thinks that way has no business being on our school board," parent Carrie Rochin said.

Rochin's son, Octavian, is a kindergartner at Las Juntas Elementary School in Martinez. She's appalled by what Elsken said during a discussion about whether to install air conditioning at predominantly Hispanic Las Juntas Elementary or mostly-white John Swett Elementary.

Elsken was heard on tape saying, "I would say 95 percent of the students at La Juntas do not have air conditioning in their homes. So whether that means those students are more acclimated and can handle a little more heat than the John Swett students - which I would say 95 percent of their residences have air conditioning in their homes."

"What did she just say? I had to listen to it a couple times to make sure I heard it right before I got upset," Rochin said.

Many parents are calling her assumptions prejudiced.

In a statement, Elsken did apologize for portraying the district in a bad light. It reads, in part, "I was simply trying to make a point that in light of the fact that it already has cool roofs and some temperature control that I believed there were other more important needs at Las Juntas that would better serve its students."

Elsken calls herself an advocate for Las Juntas families. Her two kids went there, she lives in the district, and she's served on the board 16 years.