By Srimathi Kannan and Catherine Hamilton
SACRAMENTO, CA – California State Senator David Cortese (D-San Jose) has introduced SB 1170, a bill aimed to safeguard the financial stability of school and community college districts.
SB 1170 is sponsored by the Small School Districts Association, an organization representing small school districts by providing information and assistance, according to their mission statement.
Instead of conducting re-elections for vacant legislative body seats, the vacancy is often served by someone appointed by the remaining members, noted SB 1170. The replacement remains until the next election, where the cost is lower than that of a special election.
Standard recalls are directed by the California Election Code section 11000, and appointed seat recalls are regulated by Education Code section 5091.
The percentage of voter signatures needed for a recall depends on the size of the district, but across all district sizes, the signature threshold is larger for regular recalls than appointed recalls, SB 1170 supporters suggest, noting it is especially disproportionate for smaller districts.
SB 1170 slightly increases the signature threshold for appointed recalls to avoid exorbitant costs for special elections in school and community college districts, according to Cortese’s office.
This bill will help to lower the risk of a recall that can seriously hurt the financial stability of smaller districts with the hope that special elections will not be able to do the same harm they have in the past.
In 2021, 90 signatures prompted a special election to recall an appointed Board Member of the Cloverdale Unified School District. The special election added nearly $100,000 in deficit.
In 2019, 75 signatures invoked a special election for a Dublin Unified School District Board appointment, and cost the district $76,000.
In 2017, a petition from 65 voters in the Rancho Santa Fe School District led to a special election for an appointment recall. The special election cost the district $40,000 to $100,000.
“Our small school districts’ financial well-being lay the critical foundation to ensure positive outcomes for our students,” Senator Cortese said in a statement announcing SB 1170.
“Many small school districts can face crushing losses due to the signatures of only a few. SB 1170 is an important, common-sense remedy that will preserve community voice while protecting our schools and the families they serve,” he noted.
“Our school districts cannot afford to allow scarce educational resources meant for our kids to be shifted to fund special elections addressing political debates among a very small number of adults,” said Tim Taylor in a quote from Senator Cortese’s press release.