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San Juan school board elections will soon change. Here’s why

San Juan Unified School District boundaries. // Image credit: Google Maps

Sentinel staff report–
The San Juan Unified School District’s Board of Education voted Tuesday to initiate a shift away from the current method of how voters elect members to serve on the school board, citing concerns that its current system of “at-large” elections could make the district subject to a California Voting Rights Acts (CVRA) lawsuit.

Currently, all five school board members are elected “at-large” by all voters within the school district’s boundaries. Under “by-trustee area” elections, which the district is now pursuing, the school district would instead be split into five areas — for voting purposes only. Each elected board member would be required to live in the area they represent and only be elected by voters of that area.

Although five trustee areas would be created within the existing boundaries of the San Juan Unified School District, the district has clarified that the change will not affect the overall boundary of the district, or existing school attendance areas.

What’s next?
An estimated timeline posted on the district’s website lists March 24 and March 31 as “pre-map public hearing” dates, where testimony will be heard from the public related to how boundaries for each trustee area should be drawn. A demographer will then prepare several map options for trustee areas, followed by a public hearing for map review on April 28 and another review hearing on May 12.

Final adoption is tentatively slated for May 26, along with a final public hearing. June 30 is listed as the last day to submit an approved map and documents to the Registrar of Voters for use in the upcoming November 2020 election, where elections will be held for three of the five trustee areas.

The remaining two trustees will keep their position on the board through the end of their terms in 2022.

How does this affect Citrus Heights?
The move follows a trend of cities and public agencies around the state, including Citrus Heights, who have made similar transitions to avoid lawsuits stemming from the CVRA, which favors district-based voting systems to avoid “racial polarization.”

Following a CVRA demand letter from an attorney, Citrus Heights made the transition to district-based elections last year and will hold its first election for two of its newly draw districts in November.

Related: New Citrus Heights district map ensures one councilman gets booted in 2020

Citrus Heights leaders like Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins have often been critical of the San Juan school district, accusing the board of not adequately focusing on the needs of schools in Citrus Heights. Bruins said the city hasn’t had a resident serve on the school board for more than a decade and said it’s “very important to have a qualified person from Citrus Heights on the school board.”

Depending on how new trustee area boundaries are drawn, Citrus Heights could have a better chance at electing a local resident to the board. With a population of around 90,000 people in the city and 344,000 district-wide, Bruins said it’s likely Citrus Heights would be split between two trustee areas.

San Juan Unified is the 11th largest district in the state, covering an area in the eastern portion of Sacramento County that includes Citrus Heights, Arden Arcade, Carmichael and Fair Oaks. The district serves more than 40,000 K-12 students and has more than 65 school sites.

With trustee areas splitting the district into five voting areas, candidates running for school board will only have to reach one-fifth the number of voters, compared to prior “at-large” elections.

Additional information about the district’s transition to by-trustee-area elections can be found at sanjuan.edu.

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