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AUSD Board Approves Transition to New Election Procedures

Photo by David Muñoz.

Location

Alhambra , CA

The Alhambra Unified School District Board of Education voted Tuesday night to begin a process to transition from its current at-large system to a trustee-district model for its elected members.

As the first step, the board authorized a request to the Alhambra City Council to place a charter amendment on the November 2020 ballot that would remove the district from the City Charter.

The resolution was passed on a unanimous voice vote of the three members present: Patricia Rodriguez-MacIntosh, the board president, Joanne Russell-Chavez, the board’s clerk, and Robert L. Gin, the former president and longtime board member. Jane Anderson, the board’s vice president and Wing Ho, a board member, were not in attendance.

In brief remarks before the vote, School District Superintendent Denise R. Jaramillo said that this change is something that the district had been considering for some time. Board member Gin said that this issue has been a topic of concern at the meetings of the California School Boards Association, which he has attended on behalf of the Alhambra board.

“To maintain a fair school board election system that strives to listen to all the voices in the community, the AUSD Board voted to transition to a by-trustee district election process from our current at-large system,” Jaramillo said in a statement to Alhambra Source  further explaining the move. “Alhambra Unified is one of only a handful of districts in LA County that is embedded within a decades-old City Charter. We trust that the City of Alhambra understands that the district and the city have different governance issues and requirements and will recognize that a by-trustee school board election process is in the best interest the community.”

At the board meeting, Jonathan A. Salt, an attorney and consultant on issues involving the California Voting Right Act, offered an explantation of the California Voting Rights Act prior to the board’s action and remarked on the growing number of legal challenges that some cities or school districts have faced around the state with large financial implications.

While not explicitly outlawing the “at large” election system the CVRA does prohibit such a model if the “at large” system impairs the ability, “of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice, or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.”

Language in the school board resolution made it clear that the board was taking this step on its own accord and not due to any current challenge to the present system or threat of legal action if the system were not changed. The resolution also noted that this proactive step would protect the district from costly legal challenges to the current system.

Some months ago, the LA County Office of Education sent out reminders to many school districts about the CVRE and possible legal exposure for any district operating under the “at-large” standard. Alhambra was one of  the districts to receive this blanket reminder.

Passed in 2001, the California Voting Rights Act expanded the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and made it easier for minority groups in California to prove that “at-large” elections diluted their votes. Gov. Gray Davis signed the bill into law on July 9, 2002. Two of the subsequent legal actions under CVRA involved school districts and the legal fees in these cases were large.

For AUSD  the process of making such a change involves several steps, the first of which would be to eliminate the district’s standing in the Alhambra City Charter. At present, the district’s at-large system is stipulated in the City Charter. 

The Alhambra City Council would first have to approve a ballot measure for the next statewide election. which is scheduled for November, 2020, to amend the charter to allow this change to trustee area representation.

An affirmative vote on this measure would allow the board to continue its transition to a by district trustee area model. The district would then take jurisdiction over the creation of new trustee area boundary lines, with community input, for future elections. If voters rejected this measure then the AUSD system would apparently remain as it is at least for the time being

AUSD also serves the cities of Alhambra, most of Monterey Park and parts of Rosemead and San Gabriel. Apparently the board can make this kind of move on its own except for the implications of being part of the Alhambra city charter.

No current member of the Alhambra board would be impacted by the revised system.

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1 thought on “AUSD Board Approves Transition to New Election Procedures”

  1. What the AUSD Board of Education is proposing is exactly what proponents of the 2020 Alhambra Election and Campaign Finance Reform ballot initiative are proposing. By-district voting prevents vote dilution and makes your vote more meaningful. By-district voting also makes elections less expensive so that candidates who do not want to take large campaign contributions from special interests can still run an effective campaign. Less special interest money in city elections means less undue influence and corruption! Check out the FAQs about by-district elections at the Alhambra Ballot Initiative website. https://www.alhambraballotinitiative.org/faqs

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