Tonight: Changing system for electing high school board members


The board of the Sequoia Union High School District will meet tonight (Aug. 31) to discuss how to proceed with plans to divide the district into trustee areas for purposes of electing representatives to the school board.

The public session begins at 6 p.m. in the district office at 480 James Ave. in Redwood City.

On Aug. 17, in a unanimous vote, the board agreed to the concept of trustee areas, or "communities of interest," that would have demographic factors shared in common. The voters in each sub-district would elect a member to the board and that member would have to reside in that sub-district.

Under the current at-large system, each board member is elected by voters from the entire district. The expense of campaign outreach to some or all of the 183,800 registered voters can be high, often too high for candidates from communities of color.

The board decided to act after receiving a letter in May from the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The Fund threatened a lawsuit if the district did not switch to by-district elections and put itself in full compliance with the California Voting Rights Act, enacted in 2002.

Tonight, the five-member board is expected to consider a timeline for making the change to by-district elections, the criteria for creating maps that define the borders of the trustee areas, and the timing and scope of receiving comment from the communities affected. A related question: Should maps precede or follow public comment?

Underlying these decisions are two as-yet undecided matters: the appropriate number of trustee areas (five or seven), and when to switch board elections to even years, when turnout is generally higher, according to a board staff report.

The board can choose to make the switch in November 2017 or November 2018. Given the scale of the undertaking, November 2018 is a likely goal, members have said.

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