HomeDistrictCUSD proposes switch to by-trustee-area elections for 2024; reactions are mixed

CUSD proposes switch to by-trustee-area elections for 2024; reactions are mixed

Published Oct. 6, 2022


In an effort to align with neighboring school districts and other local entities, despite some pushback Carmel Unified School District will be changing its election method for CUSD Board of Education members from an at-large election to a by-trustee-area election system by 2024, dividing the district into five geographic areas and allowing only one candidate to be elected from each. 

After receiving a letter from the League of United Latin American Citizens, a national Hispanic association that encouraged the district to create these boundaries for more equal representation, CUSD began planning for this transition, taking into consideration the California Voting Rights Act placed in 2001 that was a motive for cities, counties and school districts across the state to modify district boundaries to a trustee-area election. The project was paused during the COVID-19 pandemic, but is once more a top agenda item for CUSD board members. 

“We need representation and voices from all areas of the district,” says Jessica Hull, chief communications officer for CUSD. “The hope is that by separating them out into trustee areas, you have the ability to bring forward the concerns from those areas in a more vocal way because they have a seat at the table as a board member.”

Currently, all five board members can be elected from any area within the district, but a by-trustee-area election suggests that a candidate can only run to represent the region in which they live and only the people within their region can vote for them. 

The hope is to ensure that what matters to constituents throughout CUSD is reflected in each board member, allowing everyone to have a voice.

“Right now the folks who are participating have a 5-0 impact,” explains CHS teacher and Association of Carmel Teachers president Bill Schrier. “After redistricting, they’re only going to have a 1-0 impact. So what you’ve done is diluted the power of those folks that are more engaged, and even if the people in unrepresented communities don’t participate, it’s still going to change the dynamics of the district so you’re not going to have relatively concentrated political power choosing all the board members.”

Demographers have been collaborating with CUSD to draft maps of regions for a by-trustee-area election that meet federal and state requirements. (courtesy of CARMEL UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT)

Complications within the election process itself arise in instances where either there are multiple candidates gunning for one region’s representative or if a region already has a member on the board in 2024. For instance, if current board president Sara Hinds and board clerk Tess Arthur are re-elected in November, the regions in which those board members reside are off the table for the 2024 election, meaning that the three other current board members couldn’t rerun. 

The switch to a by-trustee-area election system has been a topic of controversy among the community and the district itself. While the transition’s intent is to create more equity throughout Carmel Unified, it means residents in the district’s most populated areas lose some of their influence on election outcomes, a reality that doesn’t sit well with all of the community.

“I would like to see our board engage with LULAC and those entities to find out what their concerns are so we can address them rather than reduce or remove representation,” says Drew Lander, a candidate in the 2022 CUSD Board of Education election. Lander proposes the board investigate alternative methods of responding to LULAC’s letter of demand before diving straight into the project and creating new boundary lines for regions. 

In order to equally divide the district, there must be 4,500 residents per trustee area. Ideally, the board would divide CUSD into regions of Carmel, Carmel Valley, Pebble Beach, Cachagua and Big Sur, but in order to group 4,500 people evenly throughout five regions, the district has realized that the boundaries might have to be unconventionally configured. 

Board members, with the help of hired demographers, are currently looking at a number of map possibilities for the new region lines, all of which the community can give feedback on through public hearings or through email. The CUSD website even offers a feature that allows community members to create their own maps that the CUSD board will take into consideration.

“We’ll see how this community responds to this change,” Hull says. “The intent is always to have better participation, more participation, more representation of all of the voices across the district. This is one way to do that.”

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