ENCINITAS — The San Dieguito Union High School District approved a new electoral map Thursday night amid claims of gerrymandering and a warning letter from the county superintendent of schools.
Under the California Education Code, readjustment of trustee areas for school districts is required following every census, or every 10 years, if the new data shows the trustee areas are out of balance by a variance greater than 10%.
San Dieguito Union High School District, or SDUHSD, saw significant growth in Trustee Area 5, which made its current map lopsided, requiring the lines to be readjusted into compliance.
Once submitted to the County Office of Education, the new map will be used for the upcoming elections later this year, however, possible legal actions could throw a wrench into the process.
Prior to debate on the maps, Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward read a letter from Paul Gothold, San Diego County’s superintendent of schools.
The letter states the county was informed that one or more of the electoral maps considered by the school district could violate the California Voting Rights Act and invite legal action.
While San Dieguito’s redistricting process does not require county approval, the school district must provide a new map to the county by March 1. However, Gothold’s letter warns the county may intercede to draw the school district’s map in the event of a delay or litigation.
“In the event that an SDUHSD-approved plan encounters injunctive relief or is otherwise delayed in being provided to the county office on or before the mandated deadline, the County Committee shall fulfill its statutorily imposed obligations and approve a CVRA-compliant plan of its own accord and shall seek reimbursement from SDUHSD for all costs incurred in the process,” Gothold wrote.
The district considered three maps for final approval, two of which — Scenario 7 and Scenario 8 — featured similarities in where the lines were drawn. Both maps leave two trustee areas without a sitting representative living within the boundaries and swap Trustee Area 1 with Trustee Area 2.
The board voted 3-2 in favor of adopting Scenario 8.
The swapping of trustee areas means residents who previously resided in Trustee Area 1 — represented by Trustee Maureen “Mo” Muir — and were scheduled to vote in this year’s elections will now be located in Trustee Area 2, which does not have a seat up for election until 2024.
A number of parents and residents in the district also pointed to decreases in minority voting share, particularly the Asian community, in Trustee Area 4 and Trustee Area 5, which they claim go against the state voting protections. For example, the voting share of the Asian community in Trustee Area 4 decreased around 8%.
Previously, the San Dieguito Faculty Association told The Coast News it was considering possible litigation against the school district if the maps were found to be unfairly drawn. But as of Friday morning, the teachers union said it was not taking any immediate legal action.
The Coast News also recently learned of separate parent groups who are considering a lawsuit, although nothing had been filed at the time of publication.
During the debate, Trustee Julie Bronstein requested to waive attorney-client privilege and allow the school district’s third-party legal counsel to speak openly about what he had previously told the board about the two controversial maps on Feb. 10 during a closed session.
Since the discussion about the district maps has largely taken place in closed session meetings, Milton Foster, attorney at Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP, needed the board’s permission to speak in an open session about what was discussed behind closed doors.
But the motion failed in a 3-2 vote, with Muir, Trustee Michael Allman and Trustee Melisse Mossy voting against.
“It sets a bad, bad precedent to reveal anything done in a confidential session,” Allman said.
Bronstein said the intent was not to raise the district’s legal liability, but rather to increase transparency for the public.
“I think in this instance it is appropriate for that information to be shared with the public in order to be transparent and not appear as if we are trying to hide anything,” Bronstein said. “I don’t see it as giving us additional liability. We have liability whether the attorney speaks openly with us or not.”
During further discussion, Bronstein attempted on multiple occasions to ask the attorney if, based on their legal knowledge, any of the maps posed potential legal problems for the district but was not allowed to receive an answer.
However, Foster said the state’s Education Code has specific language that explains the boundary adjustment process the district is undergoing as well as separate redistricting processes including “rearrangement.” Those processes go outside of what the district was meant to do following a census and would require approval of the County Board of Education.
“So in the event that you are operating outside of the authority that’s afforded to you by statute then of course that may raise an issue that is of some concern,” Foster said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the new district maps would leave three trustee areas without an elected representative. The correct number is two.