It's the beginning of the end of the era in the Sequoia Union High School District when all registered voters participated in the election of each member of the five-member governing board.
In a unanimous vote on Wednesday, Dec. 14, the board approved a map that subdivides the 19-square-mile school district into five voting areas of approximately equal populations and designed using traditional redistricting principles.
Those principles include creating districts that are compact, contiguous and defer to visible boundaries such as creeks and major roads. It should be possible to traverse an entire area without leaving it, demographers told the board.
To pass legal scrutiny, maps should also 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.
The map will go into effect gradually and has complications that are still to be resolved, but when it's fully implemented, the voters in each voting area – areas A through E – will choose from among candidates who live in the area.
Creating voting areas meets the requirements of the state's Voting Rights Act and reduces the likelihood of a lawsuit that had been threatened by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The board has had few members of color, despite the fact that the district includes communities with significant Latino populations in East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks. Of the five current board members, all are white and none lives in a Latino community.
To avoid perceptions by the public that a board member from a voting area represents a particular high school, and following instructions from the board that were not contested at the time, the demographer created maps that avoid concentrating households that attend a particular high school.
Area E includes most of the Ravenswood City School District, East Palo Alto and parts of North Fair Oaks, communities that are all heavily Hispanic.
Households in the Menlo-Atherton High School community are spread among areas E, D and C.
Households in the Woodside High community are concentrated in Area C, but also present in areas B, D and E.
While board members Carrie DuBois and Georgia Jack voted with their colleagues Chris Thomsen, Allen Weiner and Alan Sarver in approving the map, Ms. Jack said she stood by her preference, stated at a previous meeting, for a map that more closely associated elementary district and high school attendance areas.
That map created "more logical boundaries," Ms. Jack said at the time. "It's not confusing. It doesn't divide communities. It keeps communities together. If I'm in Menlo Park and I want to know who my trustee is, I can ask my neighbor and they will tell me. It's that straightforward."
In response, Mr. Weiner stood by his preference for the map that won the day, mainly because it did not create associations with a particular high school.
Mr. Thomsen said he saw value in the approaches of both Mr. Weiner and Ms. Jack, and that he would have preferred a map that presented a "more elegant solution."
The next step comes in January, when the process begins for phasing in the map. Members are elected in two groups, two members in one election and three in the election two years later.
Of the voting areas just adopted, two are home to four members whose terms do not expire at the same time. Questions arise. Who gets to run for office first? What are the options for both members when they're both on the board and one was recently re-elected?
Complicating this calculus is another new state law that requires agencies to shift to even-year elections unless it can be shown that odd-year turnouts meet an acceptable threshold. The board has indicated that it will likely be changing to even-year elections, probably by adding a year to each member's term, as the law allows them to do.