Changes for Trustee Area Transition Process are Coming in 2024
Since the enactment of the California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”) in 2001, local agencies throughout the State have been converting governing board elections away from at-large elections, often under the threat of CVRA litigation. Making the change from at-large to by-trustee area elections requires development of trustee area boundary maps. While current law imposes some procedural requirements on this process, it leaves districts with flexibility as to the process and criteria used. Assembly Bill No. 764 will impose additional procedural and substantive requirements on the development of trustee area boundary maps altering the process for districts which adopt maps starting in 2024.
Hundreds of school districts have opted to change from at-large elections, where all voters in the district vote for all trustees, to by-trustee area elections. By-trustee area elections are elections in which voters in geographic subdivisions of the district each vote for one member of the governing board. To hold by-trustee area elections, a board must adopt boundaries for the trustee areas, one for each seat on the board. Currently, the Elections Code and Education Code impose some procedural requirements on this process, but generally, districts have been subject to fewer requirements and criteria in developing boundary maps than other local agencies.
Assembly Bill No. 764 (“AB 764”), adds the FAIR MAPS Act of 2023 to the Elections Code and sets out new requirements for local agencies, including school and community college districts, that are either transitioning from at-large elections and adopting new trustee area boundaries, or currently have by-trustee area elections and are going through redistricting (a process which will not occur until after the 2030 census). While AB 764 imposes requirements regarding boundary maps on all districts, the procedural requirements applicable depend on the district’s population.
Requirements for all School & Community College Districts Boundary Maps
Boundary maps adopted after January 1, 2024, must not only continue to comply with constitutional requirements and federal law, but must also for the first time meet specific criteria. These criteria, in order of priority, are: (1) geographical contiguity; (2) local neighborhoods/communities of interest; (3) geographic integrity of cities/census designated places; (4) natural and artificial boundaries; and (5) compactness. A district may not adopt boundaries that use other criteria that are prioritized above or conflict with the provided list of criteria. Moreover, the district may not adopt boundaries for the purpose of favoring or discriminating against an incumbent, political candidate, or political party.
Procedural Requirements for Districts with Populations Below 250,000
In addition to the foregoing, “small education districts,” districts with populations below 250,000, are required to hold at least one “workshop” before drawing any draft maps and hold two public hearings after drawing the draft map or maps. While districts were already required to public hearings before and after drawing draft maps, holding a pre-map workshop is a new requirement for small education districts. Public hearings are required to start at fixed times, regardless of their place on the agenda if the public hearing is consolidated with another meeting of the district. Also, there must be an opportunity for at least two hours of public comment during the hearing.
Procedural Requirements for Districts with Populations of 250,000 or More
All school districts and community college districts with populations of 250,000 or more are also required to hold at least one “workshop” before drawing any draft maps. Additionally, at least two of the workshop or otherwise required public hearings must be on weekends or after 6 p.m. on a weekday and public hearings must include an option for remote public comment. Among other requirements, larger population districts must also translate materials related to the map development process and must also issue a report within 21 days of map adoption regarding their compliance with the criteria listed above.
Beginning in 2024, all school and community college districts, regardless of their size, will be subject to a variety of new requirements if they develop maps for use in by-trustee area elections. This will be a shift for districts which have enjoyed more flexibility in development of trustee area maps. Given these new requirements, districts should work closely with their counsel to determine how the new requirements will apply to a district’s move to by-trustee area elections.
DWK is an expert in the CVRA and the transition to trustee area elections. If you have any questions regarding transitioning to by-trustee area elections or going through the redistricting process, please do not hesitate to contact a DWK attorney in our BETA (Board Ethics, Transparency and Accountability) Practice Group.