So what happened?
On August 4th, the Natomas Unified School Board hosted Cooperative Strategies, the organization which has been hired to consult on the matter of creating trustee areas scenarios, as presented in the California Voting Rights Act First Public Hearing Regarding Potential Composition of Trustee Areas, Prior to Drawing of Maps.
To start, Justin Rich of Cooperative Strategies notes the California Voting Rights Act adoption in 2003. Rich goes on to explain that the purpose of the VRA, in this context, is to ensure protected classes (such as race and language groups) are not disadvantaged in at large voting processes to elect candidates of their choosing. Additionally, Rich provided an overview of the three types of elections school districts use.
1. At Large Elections- candidates must reside in district boundaries and are elected by registered voters who live within district boundaries.
2. From Trustee Area Elections- Candidates reside in particular geographic area , but are elected by all voters within the district boundaries.
3. By Trustee Area Elections- candidates live in specific areas within the district boundaries and are elected ONLY by those who live within the same specific area.
With that in mind, Rich notes two criteria which have to be implemented based on federal and state laws when comprising these 5 trustee areas.
First, balanced areas. Each area should have approximately the same number of people within a 10% margin. Second, areas need to be drawn complying with federal laws, such as the ban against gerrymandering, so as not to impede protected classes’ ability to elect a candidate of their choosing.
What is interesting are the criteria which are considered good practice BUT are not requirements. That the area is compact and contiguous, meaning the demographic area's physical shape - meaning that all people and all parts of the district area are connected in that single unbroken shape. Other considerations are: respect communities interest as much as possible (such as common social and economic attributes), respect incumbency if possible, follow man made geographic features, other considerations include things like school boundaries and school sites.
Superintendent Chris Evans: "I BELIEVE WE KNOW OUR COMMUNITY AND WE'RE GOING TO REACH OUT TO THEM. WE HAVE THE MONTH OF AUGUST.WE'LL MAKE SURE EVERYONE GETS EDUCATED ABOUT WHAT THIS PROCESS IS TO THE BEST OF THEIR ABILITY. THEY UNDERSTAND IT."
Why is this important?
Next steps would be to determine how to effectively engage in outreach to inform marginalized groups of upcoming steps. Also, what strategies are being used to be inclusive of unhoused families whose students attend the schools in this district? What about families who don't live in the area, but whose children attend school in district as result of inter-district transfers? They deserve to participate in the voting process.
In other words, how can we ensure these parties are registered and able to vote/participate in this process?
Of the surveys sent out, 173 were returned, which speaks volumes to the outreach efforts ensuring that the entire community is heard.
Finally, how can we determine the district boundaries when the competing criteria and considerations may not make space for equity?
Important dates to remember found on NUSD dedicated page are:
Pre-map public hearing - January/February 2022 (Dates contingent on County Committee’s availability to meet)
County Committee hearing and action in regards to district’s proposal - November 2022