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July 4, 2020
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CRPUSD decision looms for board election districts

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
March 6, 2020

Three (3) scenario maps (A,B&C) in detail are available here

The school board is nearing the end of the required process to transition from at-large to by-district elections. The fourth public hearing, of five mandated, was conducted at Mt. Shadows Educational Center, 7165 Burton Ave. in Rohnert Park on Thursday Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. The first two public hearings were available for input before any maps were drawn. The third public hearing on Feb. 18 was the first opportunity for the public to comment on three proposed draft maps that had been posted on the school districts’ website. There wasn’t any public input during the first three hearings.

At this fourth public hearing, again no one spoke; however, a former trustee did submit written input. Tracy Farrell, a resident of Cotati was unsuccessful in her 2018 run for reelection to the school board. In her written comments she expressed dissatisfaction with the process being used by the current board to facilitate the transition to by-district elections. She criticized the district for not having made available a map drawing tool which would have allowed members of the public to submit potential map districts for elections to the board. 

Farrell also was critical of the three maps drawn by the demographers. She said, “In no map is Cotati given its own district – meaning, there would be no guarantee that the board would have someone from Cotati serving on it in the next two election cycles.” She pointed out only one of three maps had Sections A and B in Rohnert Park completely together as a community of interest. Also, she questioned why Rohnert Park Expressway wasn’t used as a natural barrier in drawing up district boundaries. Finally, she panned the board on how they went about getting the public more involved stating “it appears as though this board does not care about community input.”

Her input was given to the demographer for consideration. After reading of Farrell’s letter, the board discussed, in hindsight, if they could have done more to encourage public input. Yes, there were five stories in the Community Voice and the required notices in newspapers about public hearings. Information was blasted out by the superintendent and listed on the district’s website. Two of the public hearings held during regular board meetings were live streamed and available to the public without being physically present. The board directly asked the lawyer and demographer what their experience has been about public input during similar transitions they had been involved with. They indicated that in the vast majority, unless there was contention within the district or board, little public input is ever received.

The next and potentially final public hearing is scheduled for Mar. 10 during the board’s regularly scheduled meeting. At that meeting the board will either select one of the three maps so far developed and vote to approve it; or, they will ask the demographer to develop additional maps based on their concerns and the public’s input. However, with the 2020 election fast approaching, a decision will have to be made soon so that potential candidates can file their paperwork, start their election campaigns, and get on the November 2020 ballot. Two current trustees, Wiltermood and Nonn, have their term of office expire this year. Depending on the map adopted, one or both may be unable to run for reelection. 

In other school board news, the board continued to meet for a study session discussion. Three items were on the agenda. First, they reviewed and continued refinement of overall board goals. The four goals will serve as guidance to the LCAP development that gets underway in March. Although some minor wordsmithing may still be required the board was in general agreement about these goals. They were centered on student learning, community involvement, fiscal management, and employee development. The second discussion involved reviewing and prioritizing requests for information from the board to the district staff and superintendent. Given the superintendent search, budget and LCAP development efforts, and the transition to by-trustee elections; Interim Superintendent Watenpaugh shared that the bandwidth for additional information or research effort was limited in the next few months. He asked the board to help streamline a process for these type of requests to minimize impact on his staff. Finally, given declining enrollments not only in this district but throughout the state, Jill Wagner who is a marketing consultant, gave the board a presentation on what they could do to help maintain or even increase student enrollment in the district.