By-Trustee Area Election System & CVRA Frequently Asked Questions
What is the (California Voting Rights Act) CVRA?
In 2002, the California legislature enacted the California Voting Rights Act ("CVRA"), which prohibits the use of at-large elections of governing board members for a school district if it "impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election…." (Elections Code § 14027, emphasis added.) Under the CVRA, the only election system that provides an accepted “safe harbor” from a potential CVRA claim is a “by-trustee area” election system. Under a “by-trustee area” election system, a school district is divided into separate trustee areas and one governing board member is elected by the registered voters in that particular trustee area, rather than the community at-large. Castro Valley Unified School District (“District”) currently employs an “at-large” election system for the purposes of electing Governing Board members.
Numerous school districts and other public agencies throughout the state have been targeted by private law firms for alleged violations of the CVRA and it is believed that the best course of action for the District is to initiate its transition to "by-trustee" area elections for future Governing Board elections. In addition to initiating this transition, the Legislature recently passed SB 442 which amends the Education Code to make it easier for school districts to transition to by-trustee area election systems. Pursuant to SB 442, effective January 1, 2022, school districts and community college districts may transition to by-trustee area elections upon approval by the county committee, without the need to seek voter approval or to obtain a waiver of the same for the State Board of Education.
Should an individual challenge a public entity’s election system and the court finds against that jurisdiction, the jurisdiction must change its election system and pay the plaintiff’s attorneys, experts, and other expenses. The only safe harbor from a CVRA claim is to implement a by-trustee area election system.
Why consider the transition to a by-trustee area election system now?
Like hundreds of public agencies across the state, the Castro Valley Unified School District is starting the process to change how voters elect Board of Education Members. On March 17, 2023, the District received a letter demanding that the Board elections transition from the current at-large election method to a By-Trustee Area Election method in order to comply with the CVRA. The Board of Education has decided to take advantage of recent legislation (AB 350) that provides a short window of opportunity to discuss, invite public input and ultimately decide on a district-based election process. Upon adoption of a resolution of intent to transition, the law provides 90 days to conduct public hearings prior to adopting an ordinance ordering the transition to a By-Trustee Area Election System (Elections Code Section 10010). On April 26, 2023, the Castro Valley Unified School District Board adopted a resolution declaring its intent to transition to a By-Trustee Area Election System.
What is the difference between “At Large” Elections and “By-Trustee Area” Elections?
Currently, the District has an at-large election system, where voters of the entire District are able to vote for all members/candidates of the Board, regardless of where those candidates live in the District. Switching to by-trustee elections will require the District to create five geographic trustee areas within the District, each assigned to one seat on the Board. Voters within each trustee area will vote only for candidates who reside in that same trustee area.
Does this change where students attend school?
No – this new system for electing Board members has NO IMPACT on your student’s school attendance area. Attendance areas are NOT being changed as part of this process.
How will this transition impact me?
If approved, District voters will have the opportunity to vote for a candidate for the Board of Education who lives in their trustee area on a four-year cycle. Voters will not be able to vote for candidates from trustee areas in which they do not reside. However, each trustee owes a fiduciary duty to the entire District, not just the area from which they reside/are elected from.
What data must be considered in ensuring population equality among the trustee areas?
The population of each Trustee area must be nearly equal, based on total population. (See Reynolds v. Sims (1964) 377 U.S. 533.) That being said, the law permits local districts to have up to a 10% variance between the largest and smallest districts. (Id.) The 2020 Census was the last time every person was accurately counted in the District. Updated total population figures since then are merely estimates. Therefore, in order to comply with federal and state population equality requirements, the District’s demographer is required to use the most recent Census data (2020) – or, the District may conduct its own census – when calculating equal population per area.
The District should also follow the spirit of the CVRA and citizen voting age population (“CVAP”) data, amongst other factors and considerations, to determine whether it is possible to preserve or increase the voting power of protected classes. CVAP data is more current than the Census data, and is based on a 5 year rolling average established by the American Community Survey conducted by the Census bureau. Although the CVAP data is useful in attempting to increase the voting power of protected classes within the District, ultimately, the District must rely on the most recent, available census data to ensure population equality, which would be 2020 Census data in this case..
How and when will the final map be chosen?
The Board will consider a range of factors when it chooses to select a map of five geographic areas as part of the transition to a by-trustee area election system. These factors include (but are not limited to) equal population, communities of interest, compactness, contiguity of the districts, visible/natural boundaries, voter input, and continuity in office. After a series of public hearings, the Board plans to vote to adopt one of the trustee area map options on June 28, 2023. The Alameda County Committee on School District Organization will then subsequently conduct an additional public hearing before making a final decision whether to approve the District’s adopted map and transition to by-trustee area elections.
What if there is no candidate in one of the trustee areas?
If 83 days before a scheduled election, no candidate has been nominated for a particular trustee area and an election will not be held, a vacancy occurs, and the Education Code authorizes the Board to appoint a qualified individual who lives in the vacant trustee area to the Board. Such an appointment must occur at a Board meeting prior to the day fixed for the election and the appointee will be seated at the District’s annual organizational meeting as if elected in the District election. The appointee must be qualified to hold office and reside within the specific vacant trustee area. Unlike with most typical vacancies, an individual appointed to the Board because of a failure to elect/lack of candidates will serve "as if elected," i.e., for the full four-year term.
When will the new trustee areas take effect?
Transitioning to this new system will require the Board to hold public hearings on proposed trustee area boundaries (or maps) prior to asking the County Committee on School District Organization to approve the change. If the Committee approves the change, the first “by-trustee area” voting would be held starting with the 2024 Board of Trustees election, on Tuesday, November 5, 2024.
What if multiple board members end up within the same boundaries of a current trustee area?
All Governing Board members may serve out their full terms of office. Specifically, the Education Code contemplated transitions from at-large to by-trustee area elections at Education Code § 5021(a) which states, in pertinent part, that “[i]f a proposal for the establishment [of trustee area elections] is approved . . . any affected incumbent board member shall serve out his or her term of office...”
The Education Code requires that the terms of board members be staggered so that, as nearly as practicable, one half of the members shall be elected in each year in which the Board's elections are regularly held. Here, given the District’s five-member Board, there are three (3) trustees whose terms will be completed in 2024 and two (2) that will complete their terms in 2026. As such, after the Board transitions to by-trustee areas, there will be an election to fill three (3) of the newly-created trustee areas in 2024 and an election to fill two (2) areas in 2026. In each proposed map, there will be a proposed sequencing schedule which will indicate which seats/areas will be up for election in 2024 and 2026.
Where can I learn more?
Please feel free to contact the Superintendent's Office with any comments or questions by calling 510-537-3000 extension 1211 or by email at [email protected]