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Catching up with SJUSD- Redistricting for Justice

Thanks to Michelle Wright for contributing the info for this piece!

On July 13th, the San Juan Unified School Board held a special meeting to review the draft maps for the District’s move to by-trustee elections. The Board is considering moving to either a 5- or 7-trustee district. Currently, there are 5 members on the Board, so they will be deciding on whether to keep the same number of board members, or expand to 7 members.

So what happened?

During the meeting, a demographer (Cooperative Strategies) presented the 8 draft maps that were created by the consulting firm. Four of the conceptual scenario maps had 5-trustees, and 4 had 7-trustees. They were developed using 2010 census data in collaboration with GeoLytics (a third-party data provider), with the purpose of minimizing future changes to the trustee area boundaries once 2020 census data is available. (The Board will have to come back, and, potentially, redraw the selected map once the 2020 census data is released, ahead of the 2022 elections.) Additionally, some internal SJUSD data may have been used (demographer was unsure, but will provide an update on this at next Board meeting), but it would only have included data on refugee populations in the district.

Why is this going on? Why is it important?

Legally, SJUSD must move forward with the 2010 data for compliance reasons. SJUSD is one of the few remaining school districts in California using at-large elections.

Use of at-large elections by SJUSD is a violation of the California Voting Rights Act, as it dilutes the vote of Latinx voters in the district. At-large elections also discriminate against Black voters and low-income neighborhoods, generally.

Furthermore, if SJUSD were to continue with a 5-member board with by-trustee elections, it would be 3rd largest school district in the state to have so few board members. Most school boards comparable to SJUSD’s size have 7-member boards.

After the presentation by the demographer, members of the public gave testimony.

A large majority of the comments were in support of a 7-trustee district, with preference given to conceptual maps 7-3 and 7-4, and with the caveat and recommendation that trustee area 1 be extended up towards North Highlands to include all of west Arden Arcade, and, further, that Citrus Heights be kept together in a single trustee area as much as possible.

Historically, both west Arden Arcade and Citrus Heights have been significantly underrepresented on the Board, and community members expressed these concerns. Schools in these areas also suffer from lower academic performance than other schools in the district. Their recommendations on how to adjust the maps were in response to these concerns, and with the intent to ensure representation of those historically, politically-excluded communities, so that they can better address the needs of their students.

Most Board members held their comments, and deferred to hearing more from the public during the community meetings scheduled over the next couple days. Board Member Zima Creason did note, however, that student demographic data from the District should also be considered when revising the maps.

What comes next?

The demographer is now taking back feedback from this and the community meetings, and will redraw maps where and when legally possible. Revised maps, if any, will be released on July 20th, and the Board will vote on a final map on July 27th. You can find the link to the draft maps here.

This process is important because we need to ensure that parents and students from historically-excluded communities (typically BIPOC and low-income) have equal representation on the school board. Historically, most SJUSD Board members have come from Carmichael and Fair Oaks, which are more well-off and white. The way the new maps are drawn will determine access to representation for these communities in the future.

SJPC readers can submit written comments to the Board, and testify at the SJUSD Board meeting on July 27th, after reviewing the potentially revised maps released on July 20th.

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