Trustees were scheduled to approve district elections at their meeting last week until Joan Laursen raised concerns about the timeline and the lack of public engagement.
Trustees are considering the district-based elections through a staff initiative. Staff leaders have seen other local districts—Dublin and San Ramon Valley—switch away from at-large elections to district-based after challenges by a legal firm that specializes in forcing compliance with the California Voting Rights Act. If the firm determines through census data that minority groups are under-represented on the board, they can formally request district elections.
The same thing has happened to the cities of San Ramon and Livermore. Discussing the Livermore situation with former Mayor John Marchand back when the city was considering how to respond, he pointed out that the group had a perfect record against legal challenges. In effect, it was a waste of time and money to try to challenge it in court because the demand aligned with the state law.
While the districts comply with state law, this is a case of the law over-reaching. There’s no need for district elections in communities as small as those here in the Tri-Valley. You can make an argument for the San Ramon Valley School District that stretches from Alamo through San Ramon and has about 32,000 students enrolled. There’s a substantial difference between the Dougherty Valley in San Ramon and rural Alamo, but the common factor is parents expect/demand a quality education. The high schools at the Northern end (San Ramon Valley and Monte Vista) have tiny minority enrollments, while Asian/Indian students make up more than 70% of the enrollment in the Dougherty Valley.
My preference is for trustees who look out for the entire district, particularly in the smaller cities. The mission is to educate all children. In addition, tiny districts can lead to situations such as the one that Dublin faced when a district trustee resigned and the board appointed a successor. It took only 75 signatures from registered voters to overturn that appointment and force an expensive special election. I believe that appointing officials to fill out terms is sound policy and then let the voters speak at the next scheduled election.
Sadly, district elections will happen. So, the outreach effort to bring the public into the process and let citizens understand why this is happening and what it means is an excellent next step. I hope it will spark interested citizens to consider throwing their hats in the ring at the next election.