Just as other districts throughout Orange County have done before, the Huntington Beach City School District is looking to change how residents vote for its trustees.
The transition to trustee area elections, in which residents in designated areas will choose one person from their area to represent them, comes after Seige Law, a Santa Barbara-based law firm, sent a letter in July accusing the district of not complying with the California Voting Rights Act.
At issue was the district’s traditional at-large election system, in which voters could cast ballots for anyone running for school board. Critics say that voting method dilutes the ability of minority groups to elect their preferred candidates.
During a meeting on July 30, the district’s legal counsel advised the board that no school district has ever prevailed in court on a California Voting Rights Act matter, according to district spokesman Jimmy Lambos.
Board members then made the call to shift to trustee areas ahead of the 2020 election. Proponents say that system will lower the financial barrier for prospective candidates and increase opportunities for minorities to elect representatives from their communities.
The district also paid a $31,211 settlement to Seige Law in August, records show.
During Tuesday’s meeting, officials reviewed three proposed trustee area maps that were prepared by a independent demographer, according to board President Shari Kowalke.
All three variations — labeled as the “orange,” “purple” and “green” maps — would split the district into five sectors, each with roughly equal voting populations. The change in election system would not affect school attendance boundaries.
The district proposes staggering the elections so two voting areas would be on the ballot in 2020 and three in 2022.
Board Vice President Ann Sullivan and trustee Bridget Kaub are up for reelection in 2020. In all three maps, their homes fall within districts 1 and 3, respectively.
The school board is scheduled to select its preferred map on Dec. 10.
Tuesday’s meeting was the fourth opportunity for the public to weigh in on the process of developing the maps.
District parent Ally Ramirez, was the only audience member to address the maps during the public hearing. She asked that the district disclose where all current board members reside and where those addresses would fall on the various maps.
Ramirez, and some other meeting attendees who echoed her query from their seats, said that information was important because it would tell the public when different board members would be up for reelection.
“What if someone wants to run?” Ramirez asked.
Kowalke conceded that those addresses are public information but said that a trustee area map “is actually not based on the trustees that live in the area, it is based on the area that is representative, solely.”
She said board members would consult legal counsel — who had left the meeting prior to the public hearing — before considering whether to publish their addresses.
The school board also voted unanimously Tuesday to allow Supt. Gregg Haulk to seek a waiver from the State Board of Education so the district could adopt a trustee area map without putting it to a public vote.
According to a resolution included in the board agenda, “It is common practice in California for school districts to seek a waiver of the election requirement.”
If the state signs off, the district’s map would still need approval from the Orange County Committee on School District Organization.