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By Joe Naiman
Village News Correspondent 

BUSD approves final trustee area map

County education board to hold Feb. 28 hearing in Bonsall


Last updated 2/14/2019 at 8:39am

The Bonsall Unified School District plan to transition elections from at-large to by-trustee area needed a map of trustee areas as well as approval of the transition itself, and the BUSD board voted 5-0 Jan. 8 to approve a map option which had been presented by a demographic consultant.

"I'm hoping it will be a good system for Bonsall," said BUSD superintendent David Jones.

The election transition still must be approved by the San Diego County Office of Education, whose board will hold a Feb. 28 hearing at the Bonsall Community Center and will make a decision on approving the change at a subsequent meeting.

In 2002, the state legislature and Governor Davis amended the California Elections Code to prohibit the use of at-large elections of school district governing board members if the at-large elections impair the ability of a politically protected class to elect candidates of its choice or to influence the outcome of an election.

An attorney has been sending multiple letters at a time to school districts threatening lawsuits if those districts do not change to trustee area elections, and the Bonsall school district received such a letter.

On Oct. 13, the BUSD board voted 5-0 to adopt a resolution to initiate the transition to a by-trustee area election system beginning with the November 2020 elections while also approving the legal and demographic consultant services to create trustee areas. Fagan, Friedman and Fulfroft provided legal counsel while Cooperative Strategies provided the demographic services including the development of maps with trustee areas.

The school district held four hearings, calling special meetings for Oct. 25 and Dec 6 as well as regular meetings on Nov. 8 and Dec. 13. "I do appreciate that there were several community members who showed up," Jones said. "That was helpful to the board."

Three maps were presented. In the approved scenario, Trustee Area 1 has a total population of 3,457, Trustee Area 2 has 3,316 residents, Trustee Area 3 has 3,350 people, Trustee Area 4 has a population of 3,318, and Trustee Area 5 has 3,646 people. The maximum allowable variance between the highest-populated and lowest-populated district is 10 percent, and the variance for the adopted Bonsall map is 9.66 percent.

"It made sense in the way it's broken up," Jones said.

Trustee Area 1 is the area west of Sleeping Indian Road. Its population is 49.09 percent Caucasian, 25.22 percent Hispanic, 17.36 percent Asian, Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander, 4.08 percent black, and 1.68 percent American Indian with multiple or other races constituting 4.11 percent.

Trustee Area 2 is the rest of the area west of State Route 76 at its bend as well as land east of State Route 76 and south of Camino Del Rey. The residents are 69.72 percent white, 20.78 percent Hispanic, 5.13 percent Asian or Polynesian, 1.15 percent black, 0.12 percent American Indian, and 3.11 percent multiple race or other.

Some of the land south of Camino Del Rey is in Trustee Area 3 which also includes most of the district area south of West Lilac Road. The racial breakdown is 70.69 percent white, 22.15 percent Hispanic, 2.33 percent Asian or Polynesian, 1.28 percent black, 0.60 percent American Indian, and 2.96 percent multiple race or other.

Trustee Area 4 is mostly north of West Lilac Road and extends east of Interstate 15. The population is 75.89 percent white, 17.90 percent Hispanic, 3.49 percent Asian or Polynesian, 0.60 percent black, 0.21 percent American Indian, and 1.90 percent multiple or other races.

All of Trustee Area 5 is east of Interstate 15, and the Pala Indian Reservation is in that territory. Trustee Area 5 is 39.00 percent Caucasian, 34.17 percent Hispanic, 15.30 percent American Indian, 5.54 percent Asian or Polynesian, 2.29 percent black, and 3.73 percent multiple or other races.

"I think the public liked them," Jones said of the trustee areas.

Population figures to ensure that protected classes can elect representatives are by state law based on actual population rather than on the percentage of registered voters or in the case of a school district the percentage of students. For the 2018-19 school year, the Bonsall Unified School District has 2,525 students of which 1,089 (43.13 percent) are white, 893 (35.37 percent) are Hispanic, 210 (8.31 percent) are Asian including Filipino and Pacific Islander, 139 (5.50 percent) are American Indian, 39 (1.54 percent) are black, 222 (8.79 percent) are considered multi-ethnic, and 37 (1.47 percent) have unknown ethnicity.

The majority of Hispanic and American Indian residents in Trustee Area 5 increases the chance that a Hispanic or Luiseno will be elected. "Those ethnicities will have a better opportunity to run for the board," Jones said.

A person with a Spanish surname may be Latin American, Kumeyaay or Luiseno Indian, Filipino, or Spaniard and it is also possible for a Caucasian woman to have married into a Spanish surname. Eric Ortega, who is a member of the Pala tribe, was appointed to the Bonsall board to fill a vacancy but was defeated in his re-election attempt. The only person with a Hispanic surname to have been elected to a Greater Fallbrook school district board is Nelda Leon, who married into that last name. Leon served on the Vallecitos School District board which elects its trustees at large.

While territorial unit areas are intended to provide opportunities for non-white candidates, the risk also exists that most non-white residents will be included in one area and white voters will dominate the remaining territorial units. The Bonsall map provides a range of 17.90 percent to 34.17 percent for Hispanic voters in an area.

"Part of the job of the demographic company is doing a good job of spreading out equal opportunities for different ethnicities," Jones said. "They did a good job of doing that."

Elections by-trustee area require candidates to live in that trustee area and the election for that seat is by voters within that trustee area. While an ethnic group can be considered a special interest, by-trustee area elections are more likely to protect a district against geographical, professional, or ideological special interests.

In the case of a geographical special interest it would no longer be possible for three candidates from that neighborhood to run for the board, sweep the election, and hold a majority. Although professional or ideological special interests could still win three individual seats and could still run as a slate, elections by-trustee area increase the chance of an independent candidate being elected.

In at-large elections in which voters select no more than two or no more than three candidates, an independent running against a slate is at a considerable disadvantage since a voter can select that independent plus one (in the case of two seats) or two (in the case of three seats) slate members or the voter could cast a ballot for the slate members. A single candidate against two or three incumbents also has that disadvantage with at-large elections, so elections by trustee area increase the chance of one challenger unseating an incumbent.

Even under an at-large system separate recall petitions are needed to obtain a recall election against more than one board member. Separate recall petitions are still possible if the board is elected by trustee area, but only voters within that trustee area would be able to sign the petition and vote in the recall election. The minimum number of valid signatures for a recall election is based on the number of registered voters rather than the population.

If a trustee area has between 1,000 and 10,000 registered voters, the signatures of at least 25 percent of the voters are necessary for a recall election to occur. The signatures of at least 20 percent of the number of registered voters are required for a district or territorial unit with between 10,000 and 50,000 registered voters.

The California Elections Code authorizes the State Board of Education to waive the voter approval requirement for a school district to transition from at-large to by-trustee area elections, which reduces the cost to the school district of the transition as well as the risk that the voters may reject elections by trustee area.

Local agencies are allowed to revise their trustee area boundaries, contingent upon the areas having approximately equal population and the boundaries not being drawn to disenfranchise any specific group, as the district feels is warranted. Development projects in the northeast portion of the school district will likely shift the trustee area boundaries eastward, and while a district normally utilizes the census every 10 years to revise its boundaries, the Bonsall Unified School District could change the boundaries earlier if growth in an area creates an unequal population.

"We're going to have to monitor that," Jones said.

Trustee Area 4 includes the land immediately north of State Route 76 and east of Interstate 15 where approved development projects are in various stages.

Because the change takes effect with the 2020 elections, if Richard Olson, who was most recently elected to the board in 2016, chooses to run for re-election he will do so under the by-trustee area system. Larissa Anderson, who won a two-year term in the November 2018 election, will also run in a by-trustee area if she seeks a full term. The seats of the board members elected for four-year terms in 2018 will change to by-trustee areas in 2022 although if any candidate dies, resigns, or is recalled prior to the filing deadline for the November 2020 election, the remainder of that term will be filled through a by-trustee area election.

"I'm just very pleased that the board was responsive," Jones said.


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