As I reported in my last column, the Tustin Unified School District (TUSD), which administers four schools in Irvine, recently committed to reforming its process for electing its five School Board members, beginning in 2018.
TUSD will be transitioning from the old “at-large” election system to election of Board members “by-area” — five smaller geographic areas to ensure fairer representation. In the case of Irvine families with school kids attending TUSD schools located in the northern parts of Irvine — Hicks Canyon Elementary, Myford Elementary, Orchard Hills Elementary & Middle School, and Beckman High School — this new system will ensure that these Irvine families have their “own” school board representative.
I recently spoke with TUSD Communications Director Mark Eliot, who told me, “This will be the biggest change in how TUSD does business since its inception.” He seemed to enthusiastically embrace the new system, which should provide for fairer representation of the District’s geographically and ethnically diverse populations.
With 33,500 students, Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) is the 25th largest School District in California, and one of the few large districts to still choose its five Board members in at-large elections. Isn’t it time for IUSD to reform how its Board members are elected, by going to a by-area system?
What would it mean if IUSD made this change? More voices in the community would be heard because citizens will have a better opportunity to communicate with “their” School Board member. In a City as large as ours, each Irvine neighborhood deserves to be represented by someone who is from that area and is likely to become an expert on its schools. This is especially true for the older parts of town, where the schools may require larger budgets for maintenance, repairs and modernization — and they need a School Board member from the area who will press the rest of the Board for greater equity in the allocation of School District resources.
Elections by area would bring greater diversity to the School Board. As intended and required by the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, in moving from at-large elections to elections by smaller areas, the Irvine School Board would not only be more representative geographically, but it would likely reflect more racial and ethnic diversity among elected Board members as well. Right now, even though Irvine is a remarkably diverse community — with about 60 percent of the City non-white — all five School Board members are white, and three come from the same part of town, north Irvine.
The Tustin Unified School Board decided to transition from at-large elections to elections by-area — voluntarily and constructively — rather than having to fight a lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act. Let’s hope that IUSD Board members give consideration to adopting and implementing election reforms before being forced to do so by others.