The Legal Fight to Improve Representation at the San Juan Unified School District - by Magali Kincaid
Voting is the foundation stone for political actionMartin Luther King
Parents and community members have been embroiled in a legal fight to improve the representation of students and families across the San Juan Unified School District through organizing and a California Voters Rights Act lawsuit. The lawsuit is based on the California Voters Rights Act (CVRA). The CVRA was signed by Governor Gray Davis in 2002 and expanded upon the rights of the Voters Rights Act (VRA)* by challenging election methods that make a racial group’s votes less effective than other groups. One specific election method that the CVRA challenges is the “at-large” election method. In the San Juan Unified School district, this method has led to situations where school board members represent communities they do not live in and may have no idea about the issues that are impacting the students or schools in those neighborhoods. Two examples of the disconnect between the representatives and the neighborhoods are Encina Preparatory High School (Encina) and San Juan High School. Both schools are two of the worst performing schools in the district and have been for the past 20 years. Because of the district’s at-large elections method, there has been a lack of representation on the board from both neighborhoods. We are asking the district to create smaller areas within the district from which to elect representatives; neighborhood elections. This would guarantee that trustees come from all parts of the district instead of from one concentrated area, which has been the case historically.
At-large elections makes it difficult for minorities and low income community members to campaign and win. The district is the 10th largest district in the State, serving over 50,000 diverse students and spanning 65 square miles which includes the Arden-Arcade, Citrus Heights, Fair Oaks, Carmichael, Orangevale and Gold River communities.** Running a campaign in such an enormous and diverse area is extremely expensive and excludes parents and other local community members who cannot devote the resources needed to run a successful campaign. At-large elections in the San Juan Unified School district have preserved power in the hands of the well connected, resourced and well-funded candidates. Breaking up the districtinto smaller sections, much like congressional districts, where the local neighborhood can elect its own representative would make it easier for diverse candidates to run and improve
representation. These representatives would be more responsible to local issues because they would live in the communities they represent. Neighborhood elections put the power into the
hands of the local community and have led to more diverse representation.
Historically, the elected school board trustees have come from the more affluent areas of the
district, have connections to special interest funding and do not reflect the diversity of our
district. The decisions made by these elected trustees have left some of our most diverse and
struggling schools including those on the West side of Arden-Arcade and Citrus Heights with
persistently failing students and schools for more than 20 years. The parents and community
members are urging the adoption of single trustee districts or neighborhood elections to replace
the current antiquated system.
A community attempt to push the district to change from at-large election methods to by-district
occurred in 2012 in conjunction with Sac City Unified but unlike Sac City Unified, San Juan Unified did not budge in changing their elections. Today, a group of parents and community members are raising this issue again. We are demanding the district move not just from at-large election methods but also increase the board from 5 to 7 to guarantee that we have representation in all areas but specifically in West Arden Arcade and Citrus Heights areas. We are asking you to join us in demanding the SJUSD adopt neighborhood elections and increase the board from 5 to 7! Email and call the school board members to tell them you want neighborhood elections (by-trustee area elections) and you want representation in West Arden Arcade and Citrus Heights with a 7 member board.
Email the board at:
- Paula Villescaz, Board President: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Michael McKibbin, Vice President: email@example.com
- Zima Creason, Clerk: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pam Costa, Member: email@example.com
- Saul Hernandez, Member: firstname.lastname@example.org
- All board members: email@example.com
- Kent Kern, Superintendent: KKern@sanjuan.edu
Please join us at future school board meetings to share your public comment during the meeting
or send in your public comment in writing. Links to the virtual school board meetings and
agendas can be found here: https://www.sanjuan.edu/site/Default.aspx?PageID=49724. Link to
submit a written comment prior to a board meeting: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfBYfcLXXRPQO44beKitj_fP7ebtOJfosUJmUlwubY
DA_qJUg/viewform. The key meetings are at 6:30 p.m. on April 13th and April 27th.
Contact us for questions or to get involved:
- Facebook: @NeighborhoodElections
- Website: sjcan.tandena.org
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
* The Voters Rights Act (VRA) passed in 1965 and was signed by Lyndon B. Johnson. The law
ensured the right to vote would not be denied or diluted based on race or color. The VRA also
required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination get federal approval before changing their
** The California Department of Education, “Largest and Smallest Public School Districts- Cal-Ed Facts,”
accessed March 23, 2021, available at https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/sd/cb/ceflargesmalldist.asp.