Guest Commentary: DJUSD Moves to District Elections for Board Trustees

by Grace Bassett

The board’s decision to adopt district elections and move away from at-large elections of future board members feels rushed, preemptive, and primarily motivated by 1) fear of losing possible litigation and 2) fear of significant loss of working timeframe to develop a plan and have control over the process if doing nothing until legally challenged.

However, given that 3 of our 8 elementary schools are choice (non-neighborhood-based) city-wide program schools and we only have 1 main high school, it seems extremely unlikely to me that anyone in the near future would that strongly believe district elections to be a strong and necessary means for improving the board’s diversity of neighborhood geographic representation.

Even though a number of other school districts have been moving toward this, I am wondering if there is any reason the board couldn’t work on voluntarily drafting up a plan for district elections in the event that a lawsuit ever comes up, but not commit to actually implementing it unless a challenge actually comes up?

That way we can continue to maintain at-large elections which seems more logical for our district, but also be able to benefit from the longer timeframe of voluntary planning and be prepared to go and work within that abbreviated timespan if an unlikely challenge ever comes up?

Given how few candidates ran for this last election, it seems far likelier for a district or 2 to end up with no one interested in running, while another district may have 2 strong candidates who wish to run.

If the concern is improving equity to make it easier and likelier for more people to run and get elected from a diversity of neighborhoods and backgrounds, I doubt that the cost and effort of running a city-wide campaign vs. a more district-focused campaign would make any real difference. Under at-large or district elections, either way, it’s still a largely unpaid 4 year commitment that for many possible would-be candidates is daunting.

Offering generous paid stipends for meeting attendance feels likely far more helpful in that regard as making childcare arrangements at times for those still with school age children can be a significantly discouraging financial barrier. Upon a casual look-up, I think I saw that about 75% of smaller school districts pay stipends for meeting attendance, instead of making these positions entirely unpaid. Of course those who don’t need stipends can always simply donate them back to the district if so desired, while thus helping reduce the out-of-pocket and lost opportunity costs for those for whom that could make a difference.

Grace Bassett is a parent living in Davis.

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  1. Bill Marshall

    Agree with all, except last two paragraphs…

    Still can’t see how district elections, unless the districts are grotesquely gerrymandered will prevent the possibility of a “not representative of a ‘protected class'” challenge… geographical location, in Davis, is not in itself a “protected class”… we do not have an Asian Quarter, a Latino(a) quarter, an ADA quarter,  etc.

    1. Hiram Jackson

      “…we do not have an Asian Quarter, a Latino(a) quarter, an ADA quarter,  etc.”

      We have a lower income enclave in the Montgomery Elementary attendance area.  As a result, Montgomery has the highest concentration of students on free/reduced lunch and other related indicators.

      1. Bill Marshall

        That’s interesting on two levels….

        First has to do with how the District may be drawing their attendance boundaries (aka ‘districts’?) .  As I recall the District decided to put Olive Drive into the MM attendance area [to facilitate the closing of Valley Oak, I had heard].

        Second, not sure that economics constitute a “protected class” under the law.

        Still not seeing how districts could be drawn that would immunize the District from the (bogus?) lawsuits… (also in your 12:21 post)

    2. Hiram Jackson

      But I don’t see that the case has been made clearly or strongly enough that this community would be better represented in district elections. Instead school board discussion centered around pre-empting potential legal actions.

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