The Legal Fight to Improve Representation at the San Juan Unified School District
(Special by Magali Kincaid)
“Voting is the foundation stone for political action.”
Martin Luther King
At-large elections in the San Juan Unified School district have preserved power in the hands of the well-connected, resourced and well-funded candidates.
Parents and community members have been embroiled in a legal fight to improve the representation of students and families across the San Juan Unified School district through organizing and a California Voters Rights Act lawsuit.
The lawsuit is based on the California Voters Rights Act (CVRA). The CVRA was signed by Governor Gray Davis in 2002 and expanded upon the rights of the Voters Rights Act (VRA) by challenging election methods that make a racial group’s votes less effective than other groups. One specific election method that the CVRA challenges is the “at-large” election method.
In the San Juan Unified School district, this method has led to situations where school board members represent communities they do not live in and may have no idea about the issues that are impacting the students or schools in those neighborhoods.
Two examples of this disconnect between the representatives and the neighborhoods are Encina Preparatory High School (Encina) and San Juan High School. Both schools are two of the worst performing schools in the district and have been for the past 20 years. Because of the district’s at-large elections method, there has been a lack of representation on the board from both neighborhoods. We are asking the district to create smaller areas within the district from which to elect representatives; neighborhood elections. This would guarantee that trustees come from all parts of the district instead of from one concentrated area, which has been the case historically.
At-large elections make it difficult for minorities and low-income community members to campaign and win. The district is the 10th largest district in the State, serving over 50,000 diverse students and spanning 65 square miles, which includes the Arden-Arcade, Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks, Carmichael, Orangevale and Gold River communities. Running a campaign in such an enormous and diverse area is extremely expensive and excludes parents and other local community members who cannot devote the resources needed to run a successful campaign. At-large elections in the San Juan Unified School district have preserved power in the hands of the well-connected, resourced and well-funded candidates.
Breaking up the district into smaller sections, much like congressional districts, where the local neighborhood can elect its own representative would make it easier for diverse candidates to run and improve representation. These representatives would be more responsible to local issues because they would live in the communities they represent. Neighborhood elections put the power into the hands of the local community and have led to more diverse representation.
Historically, the elected school board trustees have come from the more affluent areas of the district, have connections to special interest funding and do not reflect the diversity of our district. The decisions made by these elected trustees have left some of our most diverse and struggling schools including those on the West side of Arden-Arcade and Citrus Heights with persistently failing students and schools for more than 20 years. The parents and community members are urging the adoption of single trustee districts or neighborhood elections to replace the current antiquated system.
A community attempt to push the district to change from at-large election methods to by-district occurred in 2012 in conjunction with Sac City Unified but unlike Sac City Unified, San Juan Unified did not budge in changing their elections. Today, a group of parents and community members are raising this issue again. We are demanding the district move not just from at-large election methods but also increase the board from 5 to 7 to guarantee that we have representation in all areas but specifically in West Arden Arcade and Citrus Heights areas.
We are asking you to join us in demanding the SJUSD adopt neighborhood elections and increase the board from 5 to 7!
Email and call the school board members to tell them you want neighborhood elections (by-trustee area elections) and you want representation in West Arden Arcade and Citrus Heights with a 7-member board. Email the board at:
Paula Villescaz, Board President: firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael McKibbin, Vice President: email@example.com
Zima Creason, Clerk: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pam Costa, Member: email@example.com
Saul Hernandez, Member: firstname.lastname@example.org
All board members: email@example.com
Kent Kern, Superintendent: KKern@sanjuan.edu
Please join us at future school board meetings to share your public comment during the meeting or send in your public comment in writing. Links to the virtual school board meetings and agendas can be found here: https://www.sanjuan.edu/site/Default.aspx?PageID=49724. Link to submit a written comment prior to a board meeting: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfBYfcLXXRPQO44beKitj_fP7ebtOJfosUJmUlwubYDA_qJUg/viewform
A list of upcoming meetings is below and all have a start time of 6:30 p.m.:
Contact us for questions or to get involved:
Phone: (916) 877-4792
(map of proposed changes from 5 to 7 districts)