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SBUSD Takes 1st Step Towards District Elxns – Advocates Say The Timetable Is Too Slow


Santa Barbara's school board on Monday authorized Superintendent Cary Matsuoka to begin the process of implementing a district elections system, starting in 2022 - but a leader of the group pushing the move quickly said they want it in place sooner.

"They'll be hearing from us about that," Jacqueline Inda, speaking for the District Elections Committee, told Newsmakers about the proposed timeline.

"We would respectfully request that as a compromise, they move it to the 2020 election."

As previously reported in this space, Inda's group, which in 2015 succeeded in transforming SB city council races from at-large to district elections, is using the California Voting Rights Act in seeking to achieve the same goal for the board of trustees of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, as well as other regional school boards, from Santa Maria to Ventura.

Advocates of district elections advance them as a way to provide more representation and political clout to racial and ethnic minorities, using the threat of litigation under the far-reaching state voting law to force local governments and jurisdictions to develop district maps that include majority-minority populations.

Mindful of the near-certainty of SBUSD losing any such legal action, Matsuoka presented a plan to the board, at its annual long-range planning "retreat" on Monday (they didn't retreat very far - the meeting was held in the same district room where it routinely convenes), along with a proposed resolution saying they will "take all needed and appropriate steps...to move from an at-large system of electing members of the Board of Education" to a district elections system.

The first formal step in reshaping the governance of the school district, the resolution is expected to come before the board on May 8.

"(T)he District does not wish to encounter the risk of costly litigation," the superintendent's proposed resolution reads, in one of its nine "whereas" clauses

How soon is too soon? Matsuoka told the five members that the reengineered system should be in place for the first time in the election cycle of 2022, noting that this means that district maps would be drawn using new, 2020 census data.

In a telephone interview, however, Inda characterized the 2022 date as a way for the board to slow walk the changeover. She said that district elections should be in place by 2020, arguing that because of Santa Barbara's relatively stable population, the new census figures are not likely to change much about the way lines are drawn.

"There isn't any reason to wait until 2022," she said. "It's a way to kick the ball down the field. It's not in the best interest of majority minority voters."

How many chairs will we need? Beyond timing, another flashpoint could be how many board seats are included under the new system.

Inda and her allies want to increase the board by two members, making seven seats.

Monday's presentation, much of it prepared and made by outside legal counsel Craig Price of Griffith & Thornburgh, LLP, did not include any proposed changes to the present, five-seat configuration, however.

Inda also warned that merely adopting a resolution asserting the intention to move ahead with a district plan would not legally indemnify the SBUSD, and said her group expects more concrete steps to be taken towards designing districts.

"A resolution doesn't stop them from gaining litigation," she told us. "It doesn't protect them from a lawsuit."

The documents used in the school board's discussion of district elections at its retreat may be found on this page of the meeting agenda.

Images: Cary Matsuoka, Superintendent of SBUSD; Jacqueline Inda of the District Elections Committee; Santa Barbara's current school board and the superintendent.


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