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The California Education Code provides three, statutorily prescribed alternate election methods for local school boards: (a) “at large,” wherein the voters of the entire district can vote for any of the trustees, regardless of residency area; (b) “by-trustee area,” wherein the candidates must reside in the trustee area where they are running and only voters residing in that area may vote for those particular candidates; and (c) “fromtrustee area,” wherein the candidates must reside in the trustee area where they are running but are elected by the voters of the entire school district. These alternate election systems have both advantages and disadvantages, and which system is “right” for a particular district will depend on the unique circumstances of each district. 1
“From-Trustee Area” Election Method
Pros 1. Trustee’s representation is not confined to just his/her trustee area, and therefore all Trustees must consider the good of the entire district. 2. There is a bigger candidate pool, allowing voters to choose from a broader base of candidates and to support candidates from outside the immediate area where they live. Cons 1. If a district is very large, some trustees may never get to know parts of their district-wide constituencies.
2. It can be more expensive and
time-consuming for Trustees to campaign.
3. Where the school board is
already broadly representative of various school district communities of interest, including racial and ethnic minorities, there may be no
3. Where the school board is not
broadly representative of various school district communities of interest, including racial and ethnic minorities, the election system
1 Throughout U.S. history, local communities’ preferences of one system over another have alternated due
to ever-changing perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of each system. For example, the early twentieth century’s Progressive reforms ushered in the widespread replacement of “by-trustee area” systems with at-large and hybrid systems (including “from-trustee area” systems) due to the belief that atlarge elections would generate more qualified (and less easily corruptible) candidates than district based elections. Later in the century, however, at-large systems were challenged as part of the civil rights movement, particularly in areas where racial and ethnic minorities were underrepresented on local boards. More recently, certain respected scholars active in the voting rights field have criticized “bytrustee area” elections as a type of false “reform” in that they merely shift the effects of racial prejudice from the voting booth to the governmental body (i.e., minorities, even if elected in a particular district, can be routinely outvoted by the majority members of the board).
need to change the election system.
may be contributing to fewer opportunities for minorities (including racial/ethnic minorities and other numerical minorities) to elect representatives of their choice.
4. Each voter has an equal
influence in elections (i.e., each voter, regardless of where he/she lives, may vote for any of the candidates running). regardless of where they live, get to vote for Board candidates every two years.
4. No “safe harbor” from a claim
under the California Voting Rights Act.
5. All voters of the district,
6. Each Trustee, although elected
by the entire district, still must reside in, be connected to and “represent” his/her subarea, ensuring that the various geographical subareas are always represented
“By-Trustee Area” Election Method
Pros 1. Trustees are elected to represent the specific interests of the trustee areas, increasing the likelihood that the Trustees will “look out” for their trustee area constituents. Cons 1. The Board may become “balkanized” and parochial because each trustee is elected from a geographical region whose interests and priorities may differ from those of the whole school district. If trustees have narrow interests/agendas, focusing only on the constituencies that elected them, this can preclude a broader policy perspective and interfere with their willingness to cooperate to achieve common goals. This, in turn, can reduce student achievement.
In addition, representing different constituencies may reduce Board cohesiveness and the ability of Board members to work productively. 2. It can be less expensive and time-consuming to campaign. 2. Board members are less likely to campaign and focus on the issues impacting the school district as a whole. 3. Each voter’s interest tends to be confined to the single representative from his/her area, rather than on the best interests of the district as a whole. 4. Candidates without a tailormade constituency within his/her trustee area may be discouraged to run, despite their qualifications.
3. Voters may feel more connected because their geographical area has its “own” representative that they alone elected. 4. Where minority groups are under-represented on the Board, “by-trustee area” elections may provide more opportunities for minorities (including racial/ethnic minorities and other numerical minorities) to elect representatives of their choice. 5. “Safe harbor” from claims under the California Voting Rights Act.
5. In areas with large numbers of registered voters, each voter has less influence than in areas with smaller shares of registered voters. In trustee areas with smaller numbers of registered voters, each voter has more influence than in areas with higher voter registration rates. 6. Voters get to vote on Board candidates only once every four years (because they can only vote for candidates running in the trustee area where the voter resides).