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Community college district may subdivide for voting purposes

Under-represented communities could have a place on the governing board.

In a move to address the potential for discrimination in elections, board members of another school district in San Mateo County are taking steps to create voting regions, or trustee areas, within the district.

The goal: to improve the odds for the election of candidates to the board from under-represented communities, as required by state and federal voting rights laws.

The board of the San Mateo County Community College District, at its Sept. 28 meeting, will be considering a set of draft maps that divide the district into five or seven trustees areas.

Over the next few months, the board will conduct hearings for comment on the maps from the public. Dates have not been set, but one meeting will be in the vicinity of Canada Community College in Woodside. A final decision by the board is set for 2017.

The college district includes all of San Mateo County. Of the 718,450 residents, about 42 percent (303,610) are white, 25.4 percent (182,500) are of Latino descent and 25.5 percent (175,930) are of Asian descent, according to a board staff report. African Americans make up 2.6 percent.

At the district's three community colleges -- Canada, Skyline College in San Bruno, and the College of San Mateo in San Mateo -- 12,423 students attended the 2016 summer term, according to state records. Thirty percent (3,700) of the students were of Latino heritage, 25 percent (3,070) of Asian heritage, and 3 percent (352) were African Americans.

College district voters, like voters from the Sequoia Union High School District, currently elect board members at-large, meaning that voters from the entire district elect each of the five board members. The new system would have voters in each trustee area electing a member to the board; the candidates would have to live within the area's boundaries.

Both school districts represent hundreds of thousands of residents, including many who live in communities typically not well-represented on the school boards. Because at-large elections tend to disfavor candidates from under-represented communities, such election methods potentially conflict with state and federal voting-rights laws.

The boards of both school districts have hired demographers to propose maps that divide the districts into trustee areas that meet voting-rights standards. The areas must be of nearly equal populations, be compact and contiguous, follow natural and man-made boundaries, and respect communities of interest, including income level, school-attendance area and neighborhoods.

Further action

Since election turnouts are higher in even-numbered years, both districts have opted to switch from their current odd-numbered year elections, also required by law, and both are on track to make the November 2018 election the first use of the new system.

In a related action, the college district board reset the end dates of member terms, extending them a year to expire in 2018 and 2020. The Sequoia board is considering this step.

Unlike the high school district, which has been threatened with a lawsuit from a civil rights group if it does not change its election methods, the college district is not under pressure, board President Dave Mandelkern said. "We are doing this on our own initiative," he said.

Several years ago, the board considered dividing the district in this way, but the motion failed on a 3-2 vote, Mr. Mandelkern said. Today, with a board that includes Maurice Goodman, an African American, "there did seem to be a majority ... that could be open to this change, to at least consider it," Mr. Mandelkern said.

Range of choices

Cooperative Strategies, a demographic services company, prepared a report that included the draft maps. Of the eight maps, five divided the district into five trustee areas, and three divided the district into seven areas.

All the maps show white pluralities in a majority of trustee areas: three in five-area maps, and four in seven-areas maps.

Areas with Latino pluralities show up in six of the eight drafts, including two each in two seven-area maps.

Areas with Asian pluralities appear in all eight drafts, mostly around Daly City.

At the public hearings, the board will likely present three maps. "We want to give voters a range of choices, but not an overwhelming range of choices," Mr. Mandelkern said.

The maps link trustee names to proposed areas, as if the maps were drawn to include them. And they were. "Respecting incumbency if possible" is a map-drawing guideline and instrumental to finding "the right way to create some institutional memory and continuity," Mr. Mandelkern said.

The packet containing the report is not available online.

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