As directed at a board meeting on April 13, the Aromas-San Juan Unified School District has begun taking initial steps to change the manner in which school board members are selected. In the current system, all members are elected by all the voters in the district. In the new system, the members will be elected as trustees of a specific area within the district.
On April 20, the board held the first of two meetings asking for public input on the new trustee areas prior to the drafting of trustee area maps. The board’s intent is to have the new boundaries in place by the upcoming November election.
According to the Association of California School Administrators, Senate Bill 442, which went into effect on Jan. 1, allows school districts to move to trustee area elections without seeking voter approval. The goal of trustee areas, as with electoral districts, is to reduce the chance of suppressing the votes of protected classes in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. Only voters in a candidate’s trustee area will be eligible to vote for that candidate.
Demographer Ben Clark spoke about creating trustee areas in a presentation to the board.
“We will put together multiple scenarios for what the trustee areas will look like,” he said, “which will be based on the most recent 2020 census. There will be five trustee areas with a nearly equal number of inhabitants and we want to be sure that we comply with not just the California Voting Rights Act but also the federal Voting Rights Act to respect the communities of interest as much as possible.”
Clark said the current school district area has a total population of just under 10,000 people and that the boundaries of the five districts would take into account natural boundaries, major roadways, school locations and other factors.
Under California Education Code Article 1 Section 5033, governing boards for schools can be elected using three different methods:
- each member of the governing board is elected by the registered voters of the entire district
- one or more members residing in each trustee area is elected by the registered voters of that particular trustee area
- each governing board member is elected by the registered voters of the entire school district or community college district but resides in the trustee area which he or she represents
While the members elected in 2022 would have to be from their trustee area, the education code specifies that any affected incumbent member would serve out their term of office regardless of which district they lived in.
Several board members expressed concern as to how to draw up districts in densely populated areas where communities of interest would be spread throughout the area.
Clark said that ultimately the process would take time and “a lot of different tweaks” to create several different viable scenarios and that it might be a matter of connecting the densely populated areas with the more rural areas.
During the public comment, Aromas resident Wayne Norton voiced concern that there could be a problem finding people to run for office in certain of the trustee areas.
“As a guy who, over the years, has had to encourage people to run for the school board, I know how hard it is to get people involved,” he said. “There is a real possibility that, in some of the areas, you are going to get no one. We need more input on this and especially with the final product, if you do not get the community involved, you will be sorry.”
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