The Beaumont Unified School District Board is considering changing the way the Board Members are elected beginning as soon as November 2014. At the last City Council meeting, Council Member De Forge recommended the City of Beaumont do the same.
The school district’s attorneys advised the school district that the way the board members are elected now, in an at-large election, exposes the district to legal action from groups who might claim they aren’t being fairly represented on the board. The attorneys told the board at their last board meeting dividing the school district into 5 areas (the attorneys referred to them as "Trustee Areas" but they are also known as wards), would protect them from future liability regarding unfair representation claims. According to the attorneys, other districts have had to pay tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees, both the plaintiff's and the districts', to defend against claims.
During the attorneys’ presentation, they provided several maps of possible ward division. While they said that race, income and other demographic factors would be taken into consideration in creating the districts, their focus that night was how the districts would affect the re-election of the board members. Three of the five are up for re-election next year. If the maps are drawn resulting in more than one board member in the same ward and one of them is up for re-election, they will not be eligible to run. Board Member David Sanchez said it was a good thing the map could be drawn in a way that each board member resides in a different ward because otherwise there would be “so many biases.”
The board has the option of putting this decision before the voters or obtaining a waiver from the State and making the change without voter approval. The attorneys recommended going it alone without the support of the electorate. They argue that if the voters turn down the changes, the district may still be liable for claims. The comments from the board leads me to believe they will be opting for the waiver process.
The attorney told the board they “would adopt a resolution that says we want to transition, with that you would adopt a map you want to transition to.” Board Member Hackney responded by saying, “ if the public votes they want to stay at large, we still get sued?” The attorney responded, “That’s correct.” The attorney went on to say, “It’s not seeking a waiver because we don’t trust the public. It’s seeking a waiver, I think, it’s because the liability that is at issue for the board is so potentially great for the board.” Dr. Latham asked the attorney to clarify that there will be a public hearing for input from the public but the board will make the final decision.
Here’s the plan:
In order for the new system to be in place for the November 2014 election, the board will need to begin their process to request the State of California to grant a waiver to avoid going before the voters. They need to meet a state deadline in February to put this in place before the 2014 election. In the meantime the “experts” will draw up several maps for the board to choose from. The board will hold a public hearing to take comments on the plan and the maps they are considering. Then they will make the decision on their own. There will be no voter approval for the division of the wards and, even if there is overwhelming dissent among the electorate, the plan will go through. The wards will be re-evaluated after each 10 year Census and the maps may be updated.
Here are some questions and concerns I have with moving towards a ward systems election of our school board:
Is there a problem now? If the “experts” can draw maps where a current board member resides in each of the five proposed wards, it seems unfair representation is not a problem in BUSD.
Will this really prevent claims of unfair elections? What’s the rush? In my opinion, allowing those up for re-election next year to change the voting system in a way that may affect the outcome of their own races, seems to go against our system of fair elections. It seems to me, this may result in claims of unfair elections they say they are trying to avoid. If the board is determined to move forward without voter approval, shouldn’t the implementation of the system be postponed at least past the next election cycle?
Do we really want to divide our school district and pit one ward against another? Aren’t there other “hybrid” plans the board should at least consider? The City of Anaheim has adopted a plan “where there is a residency requirement where the candidate has to live in that district but yet again everybody in the city gets to vote for that person…”
Will the ward system provide the best candidates to lead our school district? What if two or three candidates challenging an incumbent come from one ward and no new candidates in any of the other wards results in an incumbent running unopposed? What if there is an open seat and no one is seriously interested in running until he or she realize they could run unopposed? How can either of these scenarios be good for our kids?
How would the 2012 election have been different if this new plan had been implanted? It would have been quite different.
Let me try and explain...
From first hand knowledge, and what I deduced from the board meeting, here is where I believe the current board members reside:
- Hackney - Tournament Hills
- Lara - Palm area
- Poulter - Oak Valley Area
- Sanchez - Cherry Valley (probably in the western portion since there was a question on one of the new maps that would have Sanchez and Poulter sharing a new Ward)
- De Longchamp - Sundance Area
Since the planned maps would cover the entire city, I deduced the following:
Lara, De Longchamp, and Poulter were not up for re-election in 2012 so their Wards would have been locked out.
Since, no one appears to live on the South East side of Beaumont, De Longchamp's and Lara's districts would need to be drawn to include the neighborhoods south of Wal Mart, including Four Seasons. Steve Hovey would not have been eligible to run.
Ed Brown lives sort of between Sundance and Palm, he too would have been ineligible.
Depending on how Mrs. Poulter's district is drawn, either David Sanchez or Gunnar Hardy and I would have been ineligible. If Gunnar and I were ineligible, Mr. Hackney would have run unopposed.
This means at least one person, who hadn't declared a passion to represent our kids would need to have been encouraged to run. More than one if we wanted an election without unopposed candidates. This would be good for Beaumont's PAC, Pass Area Families For Good Government. If their candidates were unopposed, they could save their resources for the next election. Regardless of the number of unopposed candidates, if any, PAFFGG would only have to spend their resources on two fifths of the school district areas.
I ask again - How can this be good for our kids?