The last WCCUSD (West Contra Costa Unified School District) elec­tion was a dra­matic demon­stra­tion of the power of a huge fo­cused amount of money on a school board elec­tion. This money came from a col­lec­tion of con­struc­tion in­ter­ests (union and busi­ness) into the hands of two can­di­dates who shared the same or­ga­ni­za­tion around the same consultant…and who won. (OK, one of them won by 66 votes, but that’s still win­ning.) As a side-ef­fect of this, 3 peo­ple from a small area in the El Cerrito Hills who tend to work to­gether have a ma­jor­ity on the school board.

What Can Be Done about This

I guess you could just ac­cept this as be­ing democ­racy in ac­tion, but I think most peo­ple who don’t have a vested in­ter­est in the cur­rent rul­ing ma­jor­ity on the Board would re­gard the kind of im­bal­ance pro­duced by this sit­u­a­tion to be democ­racy in form only. If you think this sit­u­a­tion calls for re­form, there are some im­me­di­ate po­ten­tial so­lu­tions that present them­selves:

  1. Term Limits
  2. Campaign Contribution Limits

Unfortunately term lim­its doesn’t get to the root of the prob­lem. It just changes the cast. Contribution lim­its, on the other hand, would re­quire State ac­tion within the con­fines of what the courts would per­mit. You could try lo­cally to pass some kind of non-bind­ing res­o­lu­tion to get can­di­dates to agree to spend no more than $X, but then what should be $X be and it’s still non-bind­ing.

The Better Solution: Ward Elections

One im­me­di­ate way to get at the big money in­flu­ence on School Board elec­tions is to re­duce the scope of the cam­paign for each can­di­date. By break­ing up the dis­trict into elec­toral wards, the cost to mount a cred­i­ble cam­paign is sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced and the ef­fec­tive­ness of the mar­ket­ing bought by large amounts of money is less­ened be­cause of the more neigh­bor­hood na­ture of cam­paigns in such smaller wards.

As a side-ef­fect, this would sat­isfy some of the feel­ings that many have had that the District is too big and should be bro­ken up. Ward elec­tions would es­sen­tially cre­ate mini-dis­tricts within the District with­out hav­ing to over­come the al­most im­pos­si­ble hur­dle of for­mally break­ing up a District.

Getting to Ward Elections

The man­ual for school dis­trict or­ga­ni­za­tion can be found at:

http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/lr/do/

The chap­ter of in­ter­est is chap­ter 10. In our county, the County Committee on School District Organization is the same as the County Board of Education. There are three pos­si­ble bases of rep­re­sen­ta­tion:

  • Elected-At-Large Trustees
  • Elected-by-Ward (District) Trustees Who Must Reside in the Ward
  • Elected-by-Ward (District) Trustees Who Can Reside Anywhere in the District

There are two ba­sic ap­proaches to chang­ing from at-large rep­re­sen­ta­tion to one of the other forms:

  • County Committee Puts It on the Ballot
    1. County com­mit­tee re­ceives re­quest or ini­ti­ates ac­tion to cre­ate or abol­ish trustee ar­eas. [Ed. Code (EC) 5019]
    2. County com­mit­tee calls and con­ducts at least one pub­lic hear­ing in the dis­trict on the mat­ter. (EC 5019)
    3. At the con­clu­sion of the hear­ing, the county com­mit­tee ap­proves or dis­ap­proves the pro­posal. The ap­proval of the pro­posal con­sti­tutes an or­der of elec­tion. (EC 5020)
    4. Proposal is placed on the bal­lot not later than the next suc­ceed­ing elec­tion for mem­bers of the gov­ern­ing board. [EC 5020(a)]
    5. If a ma­jor­ity of those vot­ing ap­prove the es­tab­lish­ment or abol­ish­ment of trustee ar­eas, any af­fected board mem­ber serves out his or her term, and suc­ceed­ing board mem­bers are elected ac­cord­ing to the se­lected method. (EC 5021)
  • 10% Petition Puts It on the Ballot
    1. Petition is filed con­tain­ing at least 10 per­cent of the sig­na­tures of the district’s reg­is­tered vot­ers propos­ing to cre­ate or abol­ish trustee ar­eas. [EC 5020©]
    2. Prior to plac­ing the is­sue on the bal­lot, the county com­mit­tee may call and con­duct one or more pub­lic hear­ings on the mat­ter. [EC 5020©]
    3. Proposal is placed on the bal­lot at the next suc­ceed­ing reg­u­larly sched­uled elec­tion, the next suc­ceed­ing statewide pri­mary or gen­eral elec­tion, or the next suc­ceed­ing reg­u­larly sched­uled elec­tion at which the elec­tors of the dis­trict are oth­er­wise en­ti­tled to vote, pro­vided that there is suf­fi­cient time to place the is­sue on the bal­lot. [EC 5020©]
    4. If a ma­jor­ity of those vot­ing ap­prove the establishment/​abolishment of trustee ar­eas, any af­fected board mem­ber serves out his/​her term and suc­ceed­ing board mem­bers are elected ac­cord­ing to the se­lected method. (EC 5021)
Election Reform in WCCUSD
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