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Ukiah Unified Trustees Move to By-Trustee Area Elections and Consider Reducing from 7 to 5 Trustees

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The following is a press release issued by the Ukiah Unified School District:

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To ensure compliance with The California Voting Rights Act, Ukiah Unified Trustees will consider maps to redraw Trustee areas for their move to by-trustee area elections from the current at-large election system used by the District. The second of four public hearings on the subject will occur during a Special Board Meeting held on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at 5:00 p.m. at 511 S. Orchard Ave. in Ukiah. Trustee-area elections and potential new trustee area maps will be discussed at each hearing with the opportunity for public input. 

Additionally, the Trustees initiated a conversation to discuss the possibility of reducing from the current seven-member board to a five-member board. Ukiah Unified Trustees have run unopposed in all but one election over the past ten years. Trustees realize the many pros and cons associated with the move and want to hear from the public on this topic at their March 24 meeting.

Ukiah Unified Trustee President Zoey Fernandez commented, “It is rare for a governing board to discuss voluntarily reducing their membership, but our priority is what’s best for our children’s education. When we are drawing new maps for our transition to by-trustee area elections is the perfect opportunity to make sure we have the optimal number of seats on our board.”

Ukiah Unified is divided into three trustee areas with seven Trustees. Two serve the north, four serve central, and one serves the south. All 22,141 voters currently registered in the Ukiah Unified area elect these seven Trustees, which is called at-large voting. Ukiah Unified will be moving to by-trustee area voting, which means that only people who reside within the trustee area can vote for trustees running in their area. With the transition to by-trustee area voting, Ukiah Unified will need to move from three trustee areas to seven, making the trustee areas much smaller. With this in mind, the Trustees are considering reducing its membership to five, so the trustee areas are larger and contain more voters.

The California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) took effect January 1, 2003, and prohibits the use of an at-large election system if it can be shown that such an election system results in racially polarized voting. In other words, it is prohibited to use an at-large election system that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election. (Elections Code § 14027.) 

Using an at-large election system puts school districts at risk of litigation and legal fees. Proof of intent to discriminate is not required for a CVRA violation, and except for one case currently pending, no public entity has successfully defended against a CVRA claim.

After hearing input at the March 24 meeting, proposed maps prepared by King Consulting, a company the District has contracted to provide demographic studies, will be available to the public at www.uusd.net on Friday, April 1, 2022. After the potential maps are available, two Public Hearings are scheduled to consider the new maps on April 14 and April 28, 2022.

“The questions remain of how to draw the maps and whether five or seven members is the right number of Trustees for Ukiah Unified,” said Fernandez. ”We intend to hear from the experts, our community partner organizations, and community members to understand what will be best for our children’s education in the future.”

United States Census Blocks will form the foundation for creating new trustee areas. A variety of community partners will be consulted during the process, including the District Advisory Committee, Ukiah Teachers Association, and California School Employees Association.

In addition to the Special Board Meeting held on March 24th, two Public Hearings are scheduled to consider new maps on April 14 and 28, 2022. The first opportunity for Ukiah Unified Trustees to adopt new maps will happen at the April 28th meeting. After Ukiah Unified Trustees make their decisions, the Mendocino County Committee on School District Reorganization must also approve so the new trustee areas can be established by the State Board of Education at least 125 days before November 2022 elections.

For more information, contact Ukiah Unified Communications and Community Engagement Officer Doug Shald at dshald@uusd.net or 707.472.5005.

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MendoFever Staff
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