On Oct. 12, the San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) held the first of a series of public hearings as it begins the process of transitioning from an “at large” election system to a “by-trustee area” election system. The city of Encinitas is undergoing a similar effort as the school district and many other elected bodies throughout the state in response to threats of costly litigation for violations of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).
The CVRA prohibits the use of at-large elections of governing board members if it “impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.” A violation of the CVRA is established if it is shown that racially polarized voting has occurred in a district’s governing board election.
The only way SDUHSD can protect itself from a potential CVRA litigation is to divide into the “by-trustee area” system — one governing board member will be elected by the registered voters in that area rather than the community at-large.
The new district map would be effective for the 2018 election.
SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill said he sent an email message about the efforts to divide the district on Oct. 9 to all of the district parent contacts and has only received two responses, one for and one against.
“I think right now the interest is not huge,” Dill said. “People are curious but we’re not getting a lot of input. I think once the maps go out we’re probably going to see that more people will come out and have an opinion one way or the other.”
A second public hearing will be held Thursday, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. at the district office. After the map options are created there will be public hearings throughout November. The board will vote on the area boundaries after the third public hearing, at the regular SDUHSD board meeting on Dec. 14.
Jonathan Salt, an attorney with Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, gave a presentation to the SDUHSD board about what the considerations could be in drawing the new district maps — such as geographical boundaries, attendance boundaries and the district’s demographics.
Salt went over the district’s existing demographics: with about 165,915 residents, 75 percent are white, 10 percent Latino, 12 percent Asian American and 1 percent African American. The district’s CVAP, the citizen voting age population, includes 119,226 who are citizens and over the age of 18. Of that group, 80 percent are white, 8 percent Latino, 10 percent Asian or Pacific Islander and 1 percent African American.
Salt said one of the goals of the map considerations would be to have one of those populations’ CVAP be able to grow in at least one district. Salt said when looking at the map of the district as a whole, the Latino population’s distribution across the district is not concentrated in any one area but the Asian community is congregated more in the southern part of the district.
“If there was a map created that grouped that area together, you’d like to see an increase in Asian CVAP percentage over the 10 to 12 percent that the current rate is,” Salt said.
The district’s demographer will take all of that data and input into consideration when putting together the maps. Salt recommended the district come up with three to four potential maps and encouraged the public to be involved in the open process: “We want to hear your comments,” he said.
Salt stressed that the process does not change school attendance boundaries or how the district is governed, it remains one district with common goals and challenges.
“The concerns I’ve heard from other parents are that the board would start operating as individual entities representing their own district. I know that would be a concern for the whole district if that started happening,” SDUHSD Board President Amy Herman said. “As we make these decisions, we need to be reinsuring the public that that’s not how our board governs and remembering as board members are elected hopefully the tradition and practice will be that we make decisions for the whole district no matter what area we actually live in.”