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TUSD one step closer to trustee area elections

POSTED December 17, 2010 10:00 p.m.

Turlock Unified School District trustees have always been selected through city-wide elections, with a candidate’s place of residence in town not a factor.  That might soon be changing as the Stanislaus County Committee on School District Organization and Reorganization unanimously voted on Wednesday to accept a proposal by the TUSD to create trustee areas for the 2013 elections.

TUSD approved the election changes at their Jan. 19 board meeting, and then submitted their plans to the school district organization committee. The district submitted their plans before they could be sued by a Bay Area organization that has taken up the cause of trustee area school boards across the state.

“Turlock is being very pro-active and getting ahead of it,” said Tom Changnon, Stanislaus County Office of Education superintendent.

This item has come to the district as a result of a legal mandate to create trustee area elections under the California Voter Rights Act, said TUSD Trustee Frank Lima at the Jan. 19 board meeting.

The legal mandate is being enforced by a Bay Area organization called the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area who are going up and down the Central Valley suing districts, Da Marto said on Jan. 19.

“A major driver is a fear of potential litigation,” said TUSD Trustee John Sims on Jan. 19.  

The Modesto City Council and the Ceres Unified School District have changed their at-large election style to a by-trustee area election within the last couple of years.  

“This is to guard ourselves from any legal suits that might have come if we didn’t do this,” Da Marto said on Jan. 19.

These changes to the election process will take effect in the November 2013 election with the trustees who will be up for election that year, Da Marto said on Jan. 19. Those trustees will be Josh Bernard and Bob Weaver. The election in November 2015 will affect all trustees from each district.

There will still be seven members on the board, but each of them will represent a different geographical district within the city, he said. The community will be represented from Keyes, out to Merced County and reaching Chatom.

“This is in the best interest of the community with a representative group,” Da Marto said on Jan. 19.

The maps for each trustee area will be determined from the April 2011 Census Data. The district will redraw the map every 10 years, as Census Data is released.

Changing the election process will cost the district a total of $15,000. It will cost about $5,000 for legal fees and $10,000 for the topography work.

“Although the state provides us no additional funding to comply with this law, if we are not proactive, the cost and expense to comply with this act could be significant,” Lima said at the Jan. 19 board meeting. “By initiating this process, we’re hoping we can control our costs by following the law and establishing a timeline and procedure that is in the best interest of our district and its students.”

TUSD administration will present the information to the Board of Trustees at the Jan. 18, 2011 meeting seeking direction and timeline approvals. 

TUSD is hoping to have the trustee area maps finalized by July 2011.

Because TUSD overlaps into two counties — Stanislaus County and Merced County — it must also receive approval from Merced County, Changnon said. They must also seek approval from the United States Department of Justice.

The approved election changes will be submitted to the county election clerks and sent back to the county committees for final approval, he said.

The final deadline for submission of documents to the elections departments must be turned in 120 days before the election, which is July 8, 2013.

To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail mmartens@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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