Petition to Force SMMUSD to Change the Way it Elects its Governing Board Members to be Heard by County Committee


The following is a press release from the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District.

The Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization has scheduled two hearings to receive public input on the legality of the voting map submitted as part of a petition to change how Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) board members are elected. The county committee has not made a determination that a change in method of election is required and will not take up that question at these hearings. Instead, the hearings will focus on the legality of a proposed electoral map submitted as a part of the petition.

The hearings will be in-person and virtual as follows: Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024 at 6 p.m. at the Malibu Campus of Santa Monica College, 23555 Civic Center Way, Malibu, and on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024 at 9:30 a.m. in the SMMUSD District Office boardroom, 1717 4th St. Santa Monica. The committee has posted the notice of the public hearing for the Jan. 31 meeting online that provides instructions on accessing the virtual session and for making comments.   The hearings on these dates will focus on the map provided as a part of the Trustee Area Voting (TAV) Petition. The public may contact the county committee office at 562-922-6110 for instructions on providing written comments, requesting translation services for the meetings or for questions.

Currently, all registered voters in Santa Monica and Malibu get to vote for all seven board members – in alternating election cycles every two years — three of the seven seats are on the ballot and then four seats are on the ballot. The petition submitted by a small group of petitioners proposes to divide the District into seven geographic “trustee areas.” Candidates who live in a trustee area would run in that area once every four years; voters who live in that area would get to vote once every four years among those candidates only. The change would mean that voters would only get to elect one of seven school board members every four-year cycle.

The petition and accompanying map seeks to change the election process for all eligible voters based on untruths and misstatements about SMMUSD elections. As documented by District lawyers, the map proposed by the petitioners creates districts that are not lawful nor respectful of community boundaries. The proposed districts are not geographically contiguous and appear to have been intentionally designed to achieve the unlawful objective of gerrymandering, according to the SMMUSD’s Jan. 16, 2024 submittal to the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization who will hear the petition.

The Santa Monica City Charter provides that school board elections are to be conducted at-large, as they are currently. Absent a violation of the voting rights of a protected class and maps that lawfully address that concern, the voters eligible to vote in SMMUSD elections can change the method of election only by voting for a change to the City Charter.

“The map submitted as part of the petition not only targets sitting incumbents, including a long-serving Latina, but in two areas, it combines parts of Malibu with Santa Monica that are very different from one another and don’t logically match. They are not even adjacent to each other,” said Alicia Mignano, current SMMUSD School Board Member.

SMMUSD board members unequivocally support voting rights. Senate Bill 442 (SB 442) petitions provide an administrative means for addressing situations where members of a protected class have been prevented from electing members of their choice due to the election system in place. In SMMUSD, there is no evidence that the District’s current method of election has prevented members of a protected class from electing representatives of their choice.

Over the past 30 years under the current election system, the following Hispanic / Latinx candidates have been elected and served on the SMMUSD school board: Margaret R. Franco (1992, 1996); Oscar de la Torre (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018); Maria Leon-Vazquez (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020, currently serving); Jose Escarce (2004, 2008, 2012), Alicia Mignano (2022, currently serving). During that same time period, several African-American / Black residents have served as school board members as well, including Barry Snell, who currently serves as an elected member of the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees.

State Senator Ben Allen stated, “The maps accompanying the SB 442 petition do not comply with state law. The petition itself seeks to limit voters to choosing just one school board member every four years. This contrasts sharply with the District’s existing at-large system, which has consistently resulted in the election of school board members from diverse backgrounds and allows broad voter participation, encouraging candidates to consider the needs of all of our communities and students. I urge parents, staff, students, and community members to make their voices heard at the upcoming hearings.”

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