When Turlockers head to the voting booths in November 2018 to elect California’s next governor, they may also be deciding who will represent them on the Turlock Unified School District Board of Trustees. The board of trustees is expected to soon decide if and when to switch from odd-year elections to even-year elections, following a report given by the school district’s attorney regarding Senate Bill 415.
SB 415, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, requires school districts to hold elections on even years (at the same time as statewide elections) if holding an election on odd years has previously resulted in a significant decrease in voter turnout – 25 percent less than the average voter turnout for the previous four statewide elections.
Attorney Mike Smith told the board of trustees on Tuesday that while he is still waiting for the exact numbers from the Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters on TUSD district area voter turnout, preliminary numbers suggest that the district will be mandated to switch election years.
Smith cautioned that just like when TUSD went from at-large trustee elections to trustee area elections in 2013 to avoid possible lawsuits regarding the California Voter Rights Act, failure for the district to change its election schedule if data shows the significant decrease in voter turnout could result in costly litigation.
“Even if data doesn’t indicate you are mandated, you can exercise your discretion to change if you wanted to,” said Smith.
Changing from odd-year elections to even-year elections is sure to increase the number of voters participating in TUSD trustee elections. In the November 2014 Gubernatorial General Election, 43 percent of registered voters in Stanislaus County filled out ballots while only 22 percent voted in the November 2015 Consolidated District Election.
Although the change in election years could see more Turlock voters weighing in on who is representing them on the TUSD Board of Trustees, there could be downsides also. Smith said that due to the larger number of offices, propositions and measures on statewide election years, the cost of holding each election could increase.
“Going to an even year might actually deter more people to run,” said Trustee Frank Lima. “They’ll have to spend more and campaign.”
Smith presented three timelines for the board of trustees to consider on Tuesday. The first would see the November 2017 trustee elections postponed to November 2018, extending the terms of Area 6 Trustee Jennifer Carter, Area 4 Trustee Bob Weaver and Area 2 Trustee Lori Carlson for one year.
If the board chose this timeline, they would need to notify the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors of the change in election date by March 12.
The second timeline moves the November 2019 election to November 2020, extending incumbent board members’ terms by one year.
The third timeline has the November 2021 election moving to November 2022, extending incumbent board members’ terms by one year. Smith did not recommend this timeline as the 2022 election is likely to be impacted by the district’s duty to use the 2020 census to update trustee area boundary lines. The attorney felt it would be too much going on for the voters in one election cycle.
The discussion of changing election years prompted Trustee Carter to announce that she would most likely be resigning in the early summer due to a job change. Trustee Weaver said that he was thinking of serving out his current term, set to expire at the end of the year, and probably would not seek reelection. He said if the board chooses to move the November 2017 election to 2018, he would have to think about whether to resign early or serve the extra year.
The announcements led to a discussion of changing the make-up of the board of trustees.
“This may create an opportunity for us to go from seven [board members] to five. I think that is smart,” said Lima, citing the lack of trustee candidates the board has seen over the past few years.
Trustee Ken Malech disagreed with Lima on downsizing the board seats, citing the size of the district and number of teachers and other employees the board is responsible for representing.
“Seven requires more collaboration, more conversation, and that is a good thing,” Malech said.
If they board should decide to eliminate two trustee area districts, it would require approval from the county and the remapping of the remaining trustee areas using current population data, said Smith.
Board Chair Barney Gordon said he thinks there will be an increase in those interested in running for public office if the elections were moved to even years, however, the board should definitely consider going from seven members to five at a future meeting.
The board of trustees is expected to vote on if and when to change the district’s election cycle at their next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Professional Development Center, located at 1100 Cahill Ave.