Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 11:11 am | Partly Cloudy 72º


Santa Maria High School District Board OKs Move Towards District Elections

Plan calls for ending the at-large system for picking school board members beginning in 2022

Superintendent Mark Richardson of the  Santa Maria Joint Union High School District. Click to view larger
Superintendent Mark Richardson listens to a speaker during the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District Board of Education meeting Tuesday night. The board voted to switch to district elections in 2022. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The sprawling Santa Maria Joint Union High School District inched closer to changing the way its board members are elected, but voters won’t see the switch until 2022.

On Tuesday night, the Board of Education voted 4-0 to begin the transition to implementing district-based elections, rather than the current at-large system now used.

Board member Diana Perez, currently board president, was absent.

Local agencies throughout the state have faced threats of lawsuits under the California Voting Rights Act and implemented changes to avoid a costly lawsuit.

“In view of the recent decision by the city of Santa Maria, along with other local municipalities and districts, to transition to by-trustee elections, there are sound reasons for taking the action voluntarily, without a claim or threat of litigation being asserted,” Superintendent Mark Richardson said. 

Delaying the action until 2022 means the district can make use of the most up-to-date demographic information from the 2020 Census in drawing the districts, Richardson added.

The district, with three comprehensive high schools and one continuation school, has 8,000 students in grades 9 through 12 who previously attended schools in the Santa Maria-Bonita, Guadalupe Union, Blochman Union and Orcutt Union district.

Those students come from a wide swath of North County — west to the ocean, east to Tepusquet Canyon, north to the Santa Maria River and south to include the Los Alamos Valley. 

Traditionally. most of the board members have hailed from the Santa Maria and Orcutt areas. 

Abraham Melendez, an organizer with Central Coast Alliance United for A Sustainable Economy and a graduate of Santa Maria High School, urged the board to involve the community in creating districts.

“We at CAUSE believe this is a great step to making sure that each community within our bigger area has a voice in the local education system,” Melendez said.

While Guadalupe students attend Righetti High, Melendez said, district officials might be tempted to include the small community and Orcutt in one area. 

“However, we must be aware of the fact that doing so could potentially drown out the voices of Guadalupe residents and also the other areas who have less in common with residents from Orcutt as compared to residents from, for example, the westside of Santa Maria,” Melendrez said.

He pointed out federal and state guidelines call for creating districts with similar population numbers while respecting socio-economic and demographic communities of interest. 

High school district officials did not spell out how they plan to draw districts.

The high school district’s action follows the city of Santa Maria, which will hold its first district-based elections this fall. 

Three high school district board seats are up for grabs this November, but will be picked through the at-large system.

Those 4-year terms currently are filled by Perez, Carol Karamitsos and Dominick Palera, with the filing period opening in mid-July

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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