School trustees work toward new election system
by Maddy Houk | Patterson Irrigator
Feb 07, 2013 | 1730 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This color-coded map shows the seven new voting districts of the Patterson Joint Unified School District. The school district was carved into smaller districts that will each elect a single trustee to comply better with the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, a move some local advocates say will enfranchise minority voters. (Click on image to enlarge)--Courtesy of the Patterson Joint Unified School District
This color-coded map shows the seven new voting districts of the Patterson Joint Unified School District. The school district was carved into smaller districts that will each elect a single trustee to comply better with the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, a move some local advocates say will enfranchise minority voters. (Click on image to enlarge)--Courtesy of the Patterson Joint Unified School District
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The Patterson Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees voted on Monday, Feb. 4, to keep a seven-member board but have each trustee represent a different portion of the district starting with the November 2013 election.

The vote was unanimous, with President Grace McCord absent from the monthly meeting.

On the present board, Michele Bays lives in rural Patterson to the north and Kay Johnson lives in rural Patterson to the south, while Ruben Piña lives in the northeast part of the city and McCord, Bruce Kelly, Amy Hussar and Jose Reynoso live in western Patterson.

“There’s a nice representation with seven board members and more diversity,” Bays said after the vote.

Changes to the district’s elections come at a time when the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 makes at-large election of school and city boards vulnerable to costly legal attacks. The voting rights act aims to have all ethnic groups represented on city and school boards.

As a result, many California school boards and other public entities are changing to by-trustee elections. In such an election, applicants for a seat must reside within a specific geographic area, and candidates are elected only by the voters of that area.

The board voted Monday to request a waiver from the State Board of Education to adopt the changes without a special election.

Earlier that evening, during the public hearing, Vaughn Job, a local parent, questioned why the Patterson district had to change its election process.

“The system you describe is more for a city area than a rural area,” Job said.

He said that potential changes to district boundaries and a description of the new voting process should have been simplified so that parents of schoolchildren in the district could understand them more easily.

Fresno-based lawyer David Soldani of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, who the district hired in November, responded that school districts with as few as 250 students have faced litigation, costing millions of dollars, because they had at-large voting systems, allowing voters to choose whatever candidates they want regardless of where they live.

Also during the comment period, Maggie Mejia and Rosalinda Vierra, the president and legislative chairwoman of the Latino Community Roundtable, praised the school board for working to change the election process. Their group aims to address issues of concern of the Latino community in Stanislaus County.

Mejia read from a letter sent to district Superintendent Phil Alfano:

“The Latino Community Roundtable applauds your efforts to comply with the law and thanks you for your recommendation in supporting district elections under the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and the Federal Voting Rights act of 1965,” she said. “Patterson has an increasingly diverse population. Many of the Asian, Latino and African-American residents are concentrated in specific neighborhoods and communities of interest who are not equally represented.”

School board members also voted Monday to ask the Stanislaus County Committee on School District Organization to divide the district into trustee areas for future elections, using a map labeled “Revised E.” The committee studies school districts in the county and offers recommendations about their organization.

Contact Maddy Houk at 892-6187, ext. 22, or maddy@pattersonirrigator.com

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