SANTA CRUZ — Santa Cruz City Schools’ effort to split its elected board of trustees to represent individual districts is advancing, with draft maps showing how the seven trustee districts may by divided.
The shift to by-district elections was undertaken as part of a settlement agreement with a district resident, who had threatened to file suit over allegations of racially polarized voting. Santa Cruz City Schools denies any racially polarized voting has taken place, but agreed to pursue redistricting and pay about $30,000 in legal fees.
Accusations that at-large elections to offices in school districts and local governments violate the California Voting Rights Act have become increasingly common and, when brought to court, have led to settlements ranging into the millions of dollars.
At least 175 state school districts have made, or are making, the switch to by-district elections in recent years, and more than 60 California cities held their first by-district city council elections in November, according to a tally by National Demographics, a consultant firm that specializes in redistricting.
Currently, the district uses a mixed approach to elect its board: Three seats are elected by district residents living in the city of Santa Cruz, three by residents outside the city, and one at-large seat elected districtwide.
Federal law requires that each new district must have a roughly equal population and avoid racial gerrymandering, but there is otherwise substantial leeway as to how the districts can be shaped — guided by a number of principles, such as aiming for compact, contiguous districts that respect natural and manmade boundaries.
Six draft district maps are now available for public review. But, so far at least, the redistricting has generated little public interest.
A total of 15 students and 10 community members attended community input meetings on the first round of draft maps in March and April, while 43 people responded community survey sent to all district families, staff and a list of registered voters. A second community survey remains open, with 19 responses as of Wednesday.
The results outreach varied, and are statistically significant, according to Superintendent Kris Munro.
“We tried to do extensive outreach but clearly haven’t reached everyone,” Munro said Wednesday. “If other people come forward I’m happy to meet with them.”
One outspoken critic of the process is former Santa Cruz Mayor Joe Ghio, a three-term city councilman who served in the 1970s through 1981.
Ghio, who spoke at Wednesday’s public hearing, said he is concerned that the proposed redistricting will continue to “water down” the votes of city residents due to the unique makeup of the district board, which governs a single elementary district along with a high school district that is fed by a number of nearby elementary districts — each of which has their own elected board.
“At some point you’re going to have a majority of people making decisions for the elementary district that don’t live in it,” Ghio said.
Ghio proposed, instead, to split the district into two separately governed districts for elementary and high school or form a unified district.
A final districting map is expected to be considered for adoption by the Santa Cruz City Schools board May 15, following a public hearing.
The new trustee districts are planned to be in place in time for the 2020 election, when three board seats will be up for grabs.
Whichever trustee districts are settled on, the map would need to be updated in 2021 to reflect the results of the 2020 Census.
View Original Publication: Santa Cruz Sentinel