The Elk Grove Unified School District plans to change the way that voters choose trustees in school board elections, starting in the November 2022 election.

Under their upcoming “by-trustee area” system, voters will only choose among candidates running in their local school trustee area. Candidates were previously elected by all voters who live in the 330-square-mile school district that includes the communities of Elk Grove, Wilton, Rancho Murieta, Florin, Sloughhouse, and Valley Hi.

During their May 18 meeting, the Elk Grove school board unanimously voted to request a waiver from the State Board of Education. If approved, this waiver would enable Elk Grove Unified to avoid having to place the by-trustee area system as an option on a special election ballot.

Mike Smith, an attorney from the Lozano-Smith law firm, told the school board about the financial costs of holding a special election.

“The costs of holding a special election on this issue can be very costly, sometimes even in the hundreds of thousands,” he said.

He mentioned that the school district could face legal challenges if voters reject the requested changes to the election system.

“The election results could become evidence of racially polarized voting in a legal finding,” Smith said.

Concerns over being sued for allegedly violating the California Voting Rights Act had prompted several government agencies in the Sacramento region to adopt by-district or by-trustee area election systems over the past three years.

The city of Elk Grove received a legal warning from Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman who claimed that Elk Grove’s Latino voters were disenfranchised by the Elk Grove City Council’s previous from-district election system that had voters across the city vote on all Council races. His claim noted there was a lack of Latinos on the City Council despite the city’s large Latino population.

Last year, the Elk Grove City Council and the Cosumnes Community Services District Board held “by-district” elections, which are similar to the election system that the Elk Grove school board now seeks.

Trustees are now focusing on changes to their geographical areas they represent in the school district. On May 18, they held their second public hearing on the process of redrawing their trustee area maps.

Such maps have to be redrawn every 10 years to reflect the most recent U.S. Census population data for Elk Grove Unified’s region.

The district administration aims to have the new trustee area map adopted by next March. Trustees will also be tasked with redrawing trustee areas so that each area in the seven-trustee area map will have about 44,856 residents. Shalice Tilton of National Demographics Corporation, a Glendale-based firm that’s guiding the school board, said they can also consider factors such as ethnic demographics, shared community concerns, and manmade boundaries like freeways when they redraw their maps. She also advised them to avoid placing two or more trustees in the same trustee area where they could have to run against each other in the next election.

Tilton used the 2010 Census data to show there are many diverse neighborhoods across the school district

“We have a good mix and a good spread of diverse communities throughout the district area,” she said.

Tilton also asked the school board to see if there are communities that are not being served well in the current trustee area map.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in the release of the 2020 Census data this year, the school board voted on May 4 to use the 2010 Census data when they start redrawing their maps. They plan to update their map this fall when further 2020 Census data is expected to be released.

District spokesperson Xanthi Soriano told the Citizen that drafts of the future trustee area map will be posted on the school district’s website on June 8.

The school board’s next public hearing on trustee area maps is scheduled for June 15. Trustees will be asked to review and possibly revise the proposed maps that night.

That meeting as well as the draft maps will be accessible at www.EGUSD.net.