The Solana Beach School District board is deciding between five potential maps as it prepares to transition to by-trustee voting areas for elections. The board members’ goals with the new map is equity and inclusiveness, to keep like-minded communities together and to have residents clearly know who their representative is on the board.
Three maps (Green, Purple and Orange) drawn up by demographer Doug Johnson, president of National Demographic Corporation, were presented to the board at its public hearing on Jan. 16 and two more were added following board input. All of the maps are available on the district’s website at www.sbsd.k12.ca.us/cvra.
Another public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 23 at 2 p.m. at the district office and the board plans to adopt the new map on Feb. 13. If the map is approved by the San Diego County Committee on School District Organization, it will become effective in the November 2020 election in which two board seats will be up for grabs.
Using the district population of 38,117 from the 2010 census, each area must be equally split by population and race can not be a predominant factor. There are about 7,500 people are in each of the five areas.
Board members shared their concerns about the way the first three maps were drawn, wanting to ensure that they preserve unique communities and that members would represent multiple school sites.
“I’m nervous about the maps that you’ve proposed because they’re wrenching and pulling communities apart,” SBSD Vice President Debra Schade said. “I’m really looking at the maps through a lens of what we’re trying to achieve. What we want is good governance. We want strong, articulate, brave school board leaders and I’m afraid that if you cut communities out you’re going to cut some of that leadership out as well.”
The board’s feedback led to the drawing of two new maps, Orange II and Purple II.
The district’s transition from at-large elections to by-area trustee elections was prompted when the district received a demand letter from local attorney Craig Sherman alleging that they were in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The CVRA prohibits the use of at-large elections of governing board members if it “impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.” A violation of the CVRA is established if it is shown that racially polarized voting has occurred in a district’s governing board election.
After a complaint is filed a governing agency has to pass a resolution within 45 days, starting a 90-day litigation-free safe harbor period.
Demographer Doug Johnson, president of National Demographic Corporation, acknowledged that the district is undergoing a “weird process at a weird time.”
Currently using the data from the 2010 census, the district will have to redo the process in 2021 after the 2020 census. They are also in the process of appointing a new trustee following the resignation of Rich Leib and the board wants to have an idea of what area that trustee would represent.
At the Jan. 16 hearing, the district only received one written comment on the posted maps and there were no speakers.
As they considered the maps, the board members were aware that the 2010 census will not reflect the significant growth in Pacific Highlands Ranch in the last 10 years and that will have to be addressed. “There is more density in Pacific Highlands Ranch which will throw the map out of whack,” SBSD Vice President Debra Schade said in her considerations for being mindful of which area PHR is included in.
In her comments, SBSD Clerk Gaylin Allbaugh said she wanted to avoid splitting up streets and breaking communities in half.
“Creating trustee areas will inevitably cut into neighborhoods and divide up communities,,however, we can’t simply consider this map exercise to be a math problem of balancing perceived populations, guessing where people are living. If we do that we will lose one of the most important elements of preserving our Solana Beach School District and that’s the connectedness between schools and school board members,” Allbaugh said. “By surgically disconnecting neighborhoods, we risk creating apathy within the public.”
Her particular concern was how one map divided the Solana Highlands School community so one side of the street was in one area and the other was in an area with Solana Vista School in Solana Beach.
Allbaugh voiced concern that if communities are too divided, the public won’t know who their candidate is and if their representative is in a far away part of the district they might not feel that their issues and voices will be heard.
There was also some concern that the way the three initial maps were drawn, SBSD President Julie Union and board member Vicki King are paired in trustee-area 5. As Union’s seat is up in 2020 and King’s in 2022, if any one of those maps were selected, Union wouldn’t have a seat to rerun for in the 2020 election.
Union said while she was “heartbroken” to find that she wouldn’t be able to run in 2020, she was committed to doing what is best for the district with the maps.
In the revised maps, Orange II and Purple II, Union would have a seat in 2020.
Douglas did warn that the county has reversed maps when they have been designed to avoid trustee pairings, however, in both instances regarding districts in Oceanside and Fallbrook, there was a lot of controversy in the process and protesters in both.
While the district will approve a new map, Allbaugh said it is important to note that the culture of the board will not change—board members will represent the district as a whole.
“I know that the goals of these maps are to inherently ensure that our trustees are not betrothed to one school,” Allbaugh said. “Our school board has operated in this very mode without allegiance or favoritism for one school over the other and that will continue to be the model.”