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Glendale Unified wades into review of district-based elections

July 25, 2012|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com

Glendale Unified officials have initiated an examination into the possibility of moving from an at-large process for electing school board members to a district system.

“We just want to make sure we are doing our due diligence,” school board President Christine Walters said Tuesday. “Our obligation is to be in the process of discernment.”

In an at-large election, candidates can run and be elected, regardless of where they live within the area served by Glendale Unified, which roughly follows city boundaries. In a district-based system, candidates compete to represent specific geographic areas.

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In November, Glendale Unified and Glendale Community College commissioned the consulting firm Redistricting Partners to conduct a $35,000 joint study to determine whether they should make the change.

It was preemptive move.

Cerritos Community College was sued last year by voters who claimed its at-large structure violates the California Voting Rights Act. Signed into law in 2002, the CVRA compels elected bodies to use districts in situations where an at-large system dilutes the voting power of a minority group.

The Community College League of California and political consultants warned of future, similar lawsuits. Under legal pressure, Mt. San Antonio College and Compton Community College, as well as Twin Rivers Unified, in Sacramento, have since converted to district systems.

In a series of meetings at the Glendale Community College earlier this year, Paul Mitchell of Redistricting Partners said that analysis of multiple local elections revealed some patterns of racially polarized voting. They could leave the campus vulnerable to an expensive lawsuit, he noted.

“There is enough evidence of racially polarized voting for the board to be concerned,” Mitchell said during a meeting in February. “Really, the next phase of discussion on that is to discuss the level of concern you have with your attorney.”

Glendale Community College trustees so far have held off on taking action on the issue.

Last month, Mitchell returned to Glendale and made the first of what is expected to be at least two presentations on redistricting to Glendale Unified board members. The K-12 and community college districts share boundaries, meaning that much of the data and findings were the same.

Board members said they have many additional questions they hope to have answered at a future meeting on the issue.

“We’re taking a fairly methodical approach to this,” Walters said. “We don’t think this is an urgent issue. The five [current board members] are fairly well spread out through the community.”

Among the biggest concerns about the prospect of moving to a district system would be fostering unproductive loyalties to certain schools or neighborhoods, Walters said.

“We as board members could potentially see the district very differently,” Walters said. “We would be concerned mainly about our own schools. Today, we look at all the district schools equally. But if we switch into district, I am going to be potentially more concerned about the schools where my voters are.”

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Twitter: @megankoneil

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