The SDUHSD passed a resolution on Sept. 27 that will change future board member elections from an “at-large” system to a “by-trustee area” system.
In at-large elections, the entire community votes for board members, but in the by-trustee area system, the district will split into five regions; voters in each region will elect a board member residing in that region.
“[The change is] kind of a financial decision for the district,” student board representative Isaac Gelman (12) said. “A bunch of districts nearby have been getting notices saying that they are not in accordance with the California Voting Rights Act. If you get a notice, you get a fine, so that is why we are doing this ahead of time.”
The CVRA prohibits the at-large elections that the SDUHSD board has been using until now because those elections may lead to “racially polarized voting.”
The fines owed for receiving a notice amount to $30,000. However, if school boards are sued, the fines are more serious. Madera Unified High School District, for example, was sued for $1.2 million in 2008.
“We have to do the whole thing within 90 days, which seems extremely fast,” SDUHSD board member Joyce Dalessandro said. “If we get ahead of it, we can avoid the fines and legal fees which are tremendously costly. Nobody wants to take those finances.”
SDUHSD is currently in the mapmaking process. After different map options are created, the board will hold public meetings on Nov. 13, Nov. 14 and Nov. 16 to get feedback from the community on those options.
“One consideration for the maps will be demographics. [The mapmakers] will want to make sure that the populations are evenly distributed between the districts,” Dalessandro said. “They also have to draw out the voting districts to make sure the minority groups get a voice.”
The board will vote on the maps on Dec. 14. While the details for by-trustee area elections will be set in place by then, the effects will not be felt until 2018, when Amy Herman, Maureen Muir and John Salazar are up for reelection.
The challenge for the board, according to Dallessandro, will be finalizing the by-trustee area system within the next 90 days.
“We will have many meetings.” Dallessandro said. “We can do it, we will have to, but it will be difficult.”
According to TPHS Principal Rob Coppo, the decisions of the SDUHSD school board usually have a lasting influence on TPHS.
“Look at Prop AA for example,” Coppo said. “That does not happen without the vision and leadership of our school board. Then the school board is there to hold us accountable, to make sure we are doing the right things for our students.”
However, Coppo said it is difficult to tell if the change will affect TPHS.
“I think we have had pretty balanced representation in the district up until now, so I do not see a positive or negative about it right now,” Coppo said. “This is more protective rather than corrective.”
While Dalessandro says changing the system is necessary to avoid legal fines, she said by-trustee area elections would not have been her first choice.
“I do think that over time there is a possibility that people would start getting protective of their area because of having their constituency in that area,” Dalessandro said. “Then, influence from the constituency may affect board decisions.”
Gelman said that the community has only been mildly involved in board meetings dealing with the new elections, but he expects more input when the map options are released.
“There are going to be opportunities for people to come in and give their input to the board members on what they think is fair,” Gelman said. “The board does not want to arbitrarily draw lines. They want it to be meaningful and fair.”
Gelman says the district board has a significant impact on SDUHSD schools.
“They are the governing body of all the schools,” Gelman said. “Their direction, what they vote on, is the direction they give to the superintendent.”
The board’s first public hearing to discuss map options will begin at 6 p.m. on Nov. 13.