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School District elections “by-trustee” Public Hearing

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
January 17, 2020

The Board of Trustees for the Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District (CRPUSD) embarked on the next step in changing their election process. They are moving from an “at-large” to a “by-trustee” election process. This decision was taken to avoid any potential litigation under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) like that alleged in the demand letter sent to the City of Rohnert Park because of their “at-large” election process for City Council seats.

They held the required first “Pre-Map” Public Hearing on Jan. 14, 2020 in the school library located at 7165 Burton Ave., in Rohnert Park. The meeting commenced at the announced 6 p.m. starting time. In attendance were the Board Trustees, Superintendent Watenpaugh and members of his district staff. No members of the public at large attended this first public hearing.

A joint presentation to the board was provided by Brandon Lallande and Andrew Chittaphong. Lallande is an attorney from Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, which is the firm hired by the school district to provide legal advice and representation as needed. Chittaphong is an Associate Director at Cooperative Strategies, the firm which was hired to help the district create new election districts. He works in the School Facilities Department of the firm and will be the demographer responsible for creating the proposed election maps for the school board to consider adopting.

The presentation covered the background of the CVRA and requirements that must be met when drawing “by trustee” districts in order to be valid and in compliance with that law. The two primary factors are that the election districts must be population balanced as well as compact and contiguous in nature. Natural geographical or demarcation lines such as Highway 101, Golf Course Drive, Rohnert Park Expressway or other similar landmarks will likely help define the proposed map boundary lines.

He will also consider communities of interest in his draft maps. Although subjective a community of interest can cover a wide variety of situations. For example, a neighborhood such as the “M” Section staying in the same voting district could be a community of interest. The growing Hispanic/Latino/Latinx population and the City of Cotati might also be considered other communities of interest. Incumbency can be considered under the concept of “continuity of leadership” but it can’t be the primary purpose in drafting the maps.

The next required pre-map public hearing will be held during the regular school board meeting Jan. 21, 2020. The public can submit suggested maps and other concerns at that meeting which starts at 6 p.m. After that hearing the demographer will create 3-4 draft maps based on public and board input and the 2010 census data for the cities of Rohnert Park, Cotati and the unincorporated areas surrounding those cities that are part of school district boundaries. The total population covered is 52,716 meaning that the five districts will each represent approximately 10,550 residents. The balanced population doesn’t have to be exact, but any variance must be ten percent or less. The draft maps will be published on the District Website no later than Feb 11, 2020 and will be presented and discussed at the third public hearing Feb. 18, 2020.

Two trustee seats, Wiltermood and Nonn, are up for election in 2020. No matter what map is adopted by the board, the three trustees whose terms end in 2022 are not at risk of losing their seats during this 2020 election due to this change. It was also stressed to the board that future trustees elected under the “by-trustee” district process are voted on by the citizens in their district but still represent the entire school district as a whole.