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Pleasanton school board ponders merits, drawbacks of area-based elections

Trustees weigh issues of inclusion and access against lower bar for recalls

Pleasanton voters may select the next Board of Trustees representatives from a pool of geographically-determined candidates in the November 2022 general election, should Pleasanton Unified School District switch from its current at-large school board elections to by-trustee areas.

Board President Joan Laursen said she sought to agendize the item for the Aug. 26 board meeting because "it's about access and inclusion for the whole community and how to reduce the barrier."

"In this case, the systemic barrier is the at-large voting and how much it costs to campaign throughout the whole district," Laursen said.

If the district follows through, board members would represent one of five areas within the district's enrollment boundaries. Trustees would be required to live in the area they represent, and voters would elect only the member from their trustee area rather than choosing from a pool of all candidates running at-large.

The Board of Trustees pondered the transition process during a team workshop on Thursday, where attorney William Tunick explained that by-trustee-area elections have legal immunity under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), which prohibits at-large elections in some cases.

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Racially polarized voting -- which measures outcomes of voting patterns and whether any identified patterns based on race or ethnicity are identified -- is one of the factors where Tunick said "at-large elections may be prohibited by the CVRA" and that "one way to immunize from that liability is to switch to by-trustee area elections."

"You can actually change the results of the elections and allow a minority group to influence or to have their preferences expressed in the results of an election that are not happening with an election at-large," Tunick said.

Most public school districts in California still hold at-large trustee elections but many others, as well as other local agencies, have transitioned to area-based elections to avoid the expense of CVRA-related litigation, according to Tunick.

There is no direct requirement for the transition based on 2020 U.S. Census data, but population and ethnicity information would be used for drawing areas.

According to Tunick, it's important "that the trustee areas are equal in population, which means roughly within 10% of the least and most populous trustee area," though he added it's "usually not an issue." Another consideration for transitioning to by-trustee elections is the Federal Voting Rights Act, which Tunick said, "If you can't draw a trustee area where a minority group is a majority, federal law essentially requires that."

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New boundaries could be geographically or demographically determined, but Tunick cautioned that "we shouldn't be using the districting process to remove somebody from the board" nor should the process "be used to draw a map that prevents someone from running."

The process would consist of three different phases: pre-map, map development and adoption, and implementation. Public hearings would be held during the first two phases, followed by securing final approval from Alameda County officials.

Laursen explained her "love-hate relationship with by-trustee areas" and how "unless you're careful about how you design the maps, you can end up with people voting only for things that are going to help the school that's in their area, for example."

A district-based election "also lowers the bar for recalls," Laursen said. "Someone of a different viewpoint might see that as a good thing, but I actually see that as a negative."

"When the bar is lowered because the number of signatures required for a recall in a by-trustee area is small," Laursen said, putting board members "at risk for the community members within your trustee area deciding to recall you."

On the flipside, Laursen said by-trustee elections have their advantages, particularly for newer members of the community.

"For a newcomer to beat an incumbent in this town, it takes about $10,000 and that's a pretty high bar," Laursen added. "It's also hard to maintain engagement with your constituents when you have 42,000 of them versus a smaller area."

If a trustee area has a vacant seat and no declared candidates, the board would be responsible for appointing a representative from that district.

Should PUSD move forward with the transition process, a demographer would be contracted along with seeking legal support, which would cost an estimated $40,000 to $45,000. Staff also said the district could be ready for the general election in November 2022, when the seats currently filled by Laursen and Mark Miller will be open to challengers.

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Pleasanton school board ponders merits, drawbacks of area-based elections

Trustees weigh issues of inclusion and access against lower bar for recalls

by / Pleasanton Weekly

Uploaded: Sun, Aug 29, 2021, 8:48 pm

Pleasanton voters may select the next Board of Trustees representatives from a pool of geographically-determined candidates in the November 2022 general election, should Pleasanton Unified School District switch from its current at-large school board elections to by-trustee areas.

Board President Joan Laursen said she sought to agendize the item for the Aug. 26 board meeting because "it's about access and inclusion for the whole community and how to reduce the barrier."

"In this case, the systemic barrier is the at-large voting and how much it costs to campaign throughout the whole district," Laursen said.

If the district follows through, board members would represent one of five areas within the district's enrollment boundaries. Trustees would be required to live in the area they represent, and voters would elect only the member from their trustee area rather than choosing from a pool of all candidates running at-large.

The Board of Trustees pondered the transition process during a team workshop on Thursday, where attorney William Tunick explained that by-trustee-area elections have legal immunity under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), which prohibits at-large elections in some cases.

Racially polarized voting -- which measures outcomes of voting patterns and whether any identified patterns based on race or ethnicity are identified -- is one of the factors where Tunick said "at-large elections may be prohibited by the CVRA" and that "one way to immunize from that liability is to switch to by-trustee area elections."

"You can actually change the results of the elections and allow a minority group to influence or to have their preferences expressed in the results of an election that are not happening with an election at-large," Tunick said.

Most public school districts in California still hold at-large trustee elections but many others, as well as other local agencies, have transitioned to area-based elections to avoid the expense of CVRA-related litigation, according to Tunick.

There is no direct requirement for the transition based on 2020 U.S. Census data, but population and ethnicity information would be used for drawing areas.

According to Tunick, it's important "that the trustee areas are equal in population, which means roughly within 10% of the least and most populous trustee area," though he added it's "usually not an issue." Another consideration for transitioning to by-trustee elections is the Federal Voting Rights Act, which Tunick said, "If you can't draw a trustee area where a minority group is a majority, federal law essentially requires that."

New boundaries could be geographically or demographically determined, but Tunick cautioned that "we shouldn't be using the districting process to remove somebody from the board" nor should the process "be used to draw a map that prevents someone from running."

The process would consist of three different phases: pre-map, map development and adoption, and implementation. Public hearings would be held during the first two phases, followed by securing final approval from Alameda County officials.

Laursen explained her "love-hate relationship with by-trustee areas" and how "unless you're careful about how you design the maps, you can end up with people voting only for things that are going to help the school that's in their area, for example."

A district-based election "also lowers the bar for recalls," Laursen said. "Someone of a different viewpoint might see that as a good thing, but I actually see that as a negative."

"When the bar is lowered because the number of signatures required for a recall in a by-trustee area is small," Laursen said, putting board members "at risk for the community members within your trustee area deciding to recall you."

On the flipside, Laursen said by-trustee elections have their advantages, particularly for newer members of the community.

"For a newcomer to beat an incumbent in this town, it takes about $10,000 and that's a pretty high bar," Laursen added. "It's also hard to maintain engagement with your constituents when you have 42,000 of them versus a smaller area."

If a trustee area has a vacant seat and no declared candidates, the board would be responsible for appointing a representative from that district.

Should PUSD move forward with the transition process, a demographer would be contracted along with seeking legal support, which would cost an estimated $40,000 to $45,000. Staff also said the district could be ready for the general election in November 2022, when the seats currently filled by Laursen and Mark Miller will be open to challengers.

Comments

Eileen Barr
Registered user
Dublin
on Aug 30, 2021 at 2:18 pm
Eileen Barr, Dublin
Registered user
on Aug 30, 2021 at 2:18 pm

NO! Dublin did this and I have seen how it works against unity and cohesion in the community. School board members should serve all the students and the whole community, accountable to all of Pleasanton, not just their own neighborhoods.


eledge
Registered user
Vineyard Hills
on Aug 30, 2021 at 5:06 pm
eledge, Vineyard Hills
Registered user
on Aug 30, 2021 at 5:06 pm

There are many more pressing issues and this feels like a very low priority right now. Way too much time was spent on this at last week's board meeting. The board's focus should be on managing our district leadership around supporting the return to school and the emotional, social, and educational needs of our kids. This includes teacher contracts, improved quarantine, and testing procedures among many other items that are more deserving of time and attention.


Kathleen Ruegsegger
Registered user
Vintage Hills
on Aug 30, 2021 at 10:47 pm
Kathleen Ruegsegger, Vintage Hills
Registered user
on Aug 30, 2021 at 10:47 pm

It is likely inevitable as there is an organized group of lawyers(?) suing any number of districts and cities to make this happen.


Frustrated Voter
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2021 at 8:23 am
Frustrated Voter, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 31, 2021 at 8:23 am

This is another example of management putting their needs ahead of what is needed in classrooms. Senior management got a nice raise this summer, they continue to hire many, many people downtown and equip them with new desks,
computers and phones, and yet neither union has a current contract. Teachers and other staff use their personal phones for school business yet 11 contract tracing contract workers get phones? The cost of living keeps increasing in this area and staff’s real buying power has steadily decreased. Let’s pay attention to what the students need and work backwards from there. True representation at the top would put children’s needs ahead of their vanity.


Michael Austin
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Aug 31, 2021 at 8:32 am
Michael Austin , Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Aug 31, 2021 at 8:32 am

Litigation is result of some minority groups that believe they are under represented or not properly represented on school boards.


Kids Come First?
Registered user
Birdland
on Sep 1, 2021 at 9:54 am
Kids Come First?, Birdland
Registered user
on Sep 1, 2021 at 9:54 am

Parents, make your voices heard. You can demand that your superintendent direct your dollars to the classrooms, not to padding the district office. Please don’t wait. Email your thoughts to Dr. Haglund and board members. It was the teachers that made this a “destination school district”, not these recent arrivals at the district office. Dr. Haglund and the board can’t hear if you don’t speak.


Pleasanton Parent
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Sep 1, 2021 at 11:56 am
Pleasanton Parent, Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Sep 1, 2021 at 11:56 am

I understand the perceived benefit, but this is just continuing to racially and ethnically divide our community - go live in the Indian neighborhood or the Irish neighborhood if you want your cultural identity represented. No thank you - we need more neighborhood unity and assimilation vs the trend to box everyone. I do agree with lowering the bar in the sense of cost to campaign to encourage more candidates - but that can be established in other ways i.e. a minimum campaign fund stipend / appeal / etc.

Lets not mistake cultural pride and representation with forced division. Especially in student education - we all want the best for Pleasanton schools, partitioning them isn't going to achieve that.


50 Years Here
Registered user
Pleasanton Heights
on Sep 1, 2021 at 12:48 pm
50 Years Here, Pleasanton Heights
Registered user
on Sep 1, 2021 at 12:48 pm

Do we have enough people willing to run for School Board to do it this way?


Michael Austin
Registered user
Pleasanton Meadows
on Sep 1, 2021 at 6:19 pm
Michael Austin , Pleasanton Meadows
Registered user
on Sep 1, 2021 at 6:19 pm

Fifty years here:

Good question.

For those that believe they are not represented, they should recruit potential candidates in their communities to run, then get out the vote for that candidate.

It is that simple.


Todd
Registered user
Livermore
on Sep 3, 2021 at 12:09 pm
Todd, Livermore
Registered user
on Sep 3, 2021 at 12:09 pm

This is a diversion to take the focus off the real issue - the teacher contract negotiation. Sure would be disappointed to see a strike. Wonder how many board members would get re-elected after that? ....... and don't blame the teacher union either. The truth will eventually come out. Eledge is spot on with his/her post. There is a reason more and more teachers are wearing black latley!


Jimmy The Jet
Registered user
Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2021 at 6:14 pm
Jimmy The Jet, Another Pleasanton neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 3, 2021 at 6:14 pm

I agree with Todd. A paid aide told me she’s been making copies of math and social studies for teachers because the district couldn’t order books and get them delivered on time. Core subjects!? Teachers have been quietly making it work without district support with the basics.


Support our teachers
Registered user
Birdland
on Sep 9, 2021 at 10:07 am
Support our teachers, Birdland
Registered user
on Sep 9, 2021 at 10:07 am

I agree with Todd: “ This is a diversion to take the focus off the real issue - the teacher contract negotiation. Sure would be disappointed to see a strike. Wonder how many board members would get re-elected after that? ....... and don't blame the teacher union either. The truth will eventually come out. Eledge is spot on with his/her post. There is a reason more and more teachers are wearing black latley!”. Spot on. I saw lots of black this morning at drop off.


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