The board of the Sequoia Union High School District is holding three community meetings -- on Thursday, Oct. 20, Tuesday, Oct. 25 and Wednesday, Oct. 26 -- to discuss subdividing the district into separate voting areas, one for each member of the Board of Trustees.
The 19.4 square miles and nine communities that make up the district represent extraordinary diversity in ethnicity, income and education levels of the families that live in the southern half of San Mateo County.
And to reflect that diversity on the school board, to comply with the California Voting Rights Act, and in response to the threat of a lawsuit from a Latino civil rights group, the board will be discussing maps that show five ways to subdivide the district.
Earlier this year, the district commissioned the National Demographics Corp., a specialist in local government redistricting, to analyze the district and create a series of draft maps. The analysis shows that of the district's 243,514 residents, 51 percent are white, 30 percent are Latino, and 12 percent identify as Asian American and 4 percent as African Americans.
To pass legal scrutiny, such maps should account for the existence of neighborhoods and for factors such as race, income level and school attendance area, demographers said. Race must be a criteria, but it cannot be the only criteria. It should also be possible to traverse an entire area without leaving it, demographers said.
The board chose five draft maps: four that subdivide the district into five trustee areas and one that divides it into seven areas. One key criterion, board member said: avoid creating trustee areas that have the effect of linking a board member to a particular comprehensive high school.
Board members in the Sequoia district are elected at-large, meaning that each board member is elected by voters from the entire district. The board would replace that system with one in which voters from each trustee area elect a board member. The candidate would have to live within the area's boundaries.
Since the Voting Rights Act came into effect in 2002, it has figured in decisions to switch to sub-district elections in at least 135 school districts, 27 community college districts, 30 cities and one county (San Mateo County for Board of Supervisors elections), the report says.
Of the five current Sequoia board members, all are white and none lives in a Latino community. In March 2015, the board appointed Laura Martinez of East Palo Alto to complete the term of retiring member Olivia Martinez (no relation), who lived in Menlo Park. In November 2015, Laura Martinez ran for election as an appointed incumbent but did not win enough votes to retake her seat.
The Oct. 20 meeting is set for Carrington Hall auditorium at Sequoia High School at 1201 Brewster Ave. in Redwood City. The Oct. 25 meeting takes place at the Fair Oaks Community Center at 2600 Middlefield Road in Redwood City. The Oct. 26 meeting is set for the East Palo Alto Academy at 1050 Myrtle St. in East Palo Alto. All meetings begins at 7 p.m.