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Updated 11:58 a.m., July 9th–
By Mike Hazlip— The San Juan Unified School District on Tuesday published eight draft maps outlining proposed trustee areas as the district moves away from at-large elections, several of which include options for increasing the number of trustees to seven.
Four of the maps outline a five-trustee area model, and another four maps outlining a seven-trustee area concept. The Sentinel previously reported the Citrus Heights City Council voted to support the move toward trustee area elections, and favors dividing the school district into seven trustee areas to enable more communities to “identify, support and elect natural leaders from their own neighborhoods.”
Citrus Heights currently does not have any residents serving as trustees on the San Juan Unified School Board, and has reportedly not had a member on the board for nearly two decades. If approved, the five-trustee area concept would likely give Citrus Heights one seat on the board, while the seven-area option would likely give the city two seats, although none of the maps follow Citrus Heights boundaries exactly.
Each draft map is accompanied by a data sheet showing population and ethnicity breakdown for each trustee area using data from the 2010 census. The proposed trustee areas are intended to be roughly equal in population and ethnic makeup, according to a statement from San Juan Unified School District describing the process.
“Trustee areas must be roughly the same size in terms of the number of inhabitants,” the description said. “Using the latest Census data available, a demographer generates maps that balance the size of each area along with requirements to ensure protected classes of voters are not divided in a manner that would make it more difficult for them to elect candidates of their choice or influence the outcome of an election. Within this scope, the demographer may also take into consideration local conditions such as major roadways, natural barriers, and other factors.”
Irvine-based Cooperative Strategies prepared the maps and data sheets for the district. The data presented for dividing the district into seven trustee areas show each area with a population between 47,743 and 45,220. The concepts for dividing the district into five trustee areas have populations that range from 65,915 to 62,208.
Advocates of by-trustee-area elections often note it being easier and less costly for candidates to run for office, with candidates in SJUSD only having to reach one-fifth or one-seventh of the number of voters compared with at-large elections where a candidate must seek to reach all voters in the 75-square-mile school district area. At-large elections are also accused of diluting the votes of minorities, in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).
A February 2020 letter from attorney Scott Rafferty of Neighborhood Elections Now calls for the district to adopt a trustee area model, saying minority groups are not represented with at-large elections. A similar demand letter in 2018 also prompted the City of Citrus Heights to shift away from at-large elections for its City Council members.
“Independent of the CVRA, San Juan USD is simply too big to elect at-large,” the letter says. “Except for San Francisco USD, it is the largest school district in the state not to elect its trustees from single-member districts.”
Next steps in the transition process to by-trustee-area elections is a special board meeting on July 13 where a public hearing will be held, followed by two community meetings on July 14 and 15. According to a timeline posted on the district’s website, revised maps will be published no later than July 20.
A second public hearing will be held on July 27, where the board is also expected to adopt a final resolution asking the Sacramento County Office of Education to approve the transition and a final map. The county will then then schedule a meeting for final approval by Aug. 10, 2021.
The district’s timeline also states that the release of 2020 Census data, expected this November, will likely require adjustments to the maps to be made, which would include drafting of new maps and more public comment. Elections for the new by-trustee-area seats would occur in November 2022, although a resolution passed by the City of Citrus Heights last month calls for a special election to be held for two new trustee areas this year instead.
The district has also created a four-question online survey asking community members to provide their input on whether the school board should seek to increase its trustees to seven, and which map is preferred. To see all eight draft maps, click here.
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