District-Only SDUSD Elections Need to Comply with 2001 CVRA

May 13, 2020

TO: San Diego City Council Rules Committee

Council President Georgette Gomez, Rules Committee Chair
Councilmember Barbara Bry, Rules Committee Vice Chair
Councilmember Chris Ward, District 3
Councilmember Monica Montgomery, District 4

FROM: Brian Bonner, First Vice President, NAACP San Diego Branch

SUBJECT: DISTRICT-ONLY ELECTIONS FOR SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS

The NAACP San Diego Branch strongly supports the proposal to ask the voters to amend the City Charter to require district-only elections for members of the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education. Enactment of this proposal would bring the San Diego Unified School District into compliance with California state law commonly called The California Voter Rights Act. This act requires local elected bodies to hold district elections when certain conditions are met.  Although the city of San Diego is a charter city, a 2017 opinion by the California Attorney General found that “The California Voter Participation Rights Act applies to charter cities, and to local school districts whose elections are governed by city charters.”  

At its core, the NAACP has championed civil rights, especially the right to vote, throughout its history. The NAACP took direct action and participated in legislative and judicial efforts to obtain and protect the right to vote. Congress and President Johnson enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in response to the years of oppression and in response action by the NAACP and its partners in the fight for civil rights. That fight continues as voter suppression efforts continue unabated.

The California Voting Rights Act responded to conditions in California that denied civil and voting rights to protected classes.  As recently as 2017, the NAACP California-Hawaii State/State Area Conference recognized the importance of improving the education system for the African-American community by working with elected officials, policy makers, superintendents, school board members and community leaders.  It adopted a resolution that included the following statement “Resolved that the California NAACP communicates this resolution to the California legislature to urge them to create policy that would make school boards in the state to be a better representation of the students and citizens in the state.

Article VI of the San Diego city charter provides that voters in each of the five sub-districts choose the top two candidates for a runoff that includes all of the voters within SDUSD boundaries. Candidates in sub-districts must reside in those sub-districts. All other matters regarding SDUSD are subject to state law.

Several events and trends have converged to raise the issue of changing the manner in which SDUSD elections are conducted. In May 2017, the San Diego County Grand Jury issued a report recommending that the San Diego City Council place measures on the ballot to amend the City Charter to provide for district-only elections, and make other changes.

In addition, school districts across the state, including school districts in San Diego County, have moved to elect school board trustees in district-only elections in response to the requirements of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA). Rather than go to the expense of defending lawsuits they would likely lose, these districts move forward to change from at-large elections to district elections. For the most part, these school districts are governed by the general laws of the State of California. As noted above, In July 2017, the California Attorney General issued an opinion that CVRA applies to charter cities and school districts whose elections are governed by city charters.

The time has come for elections to the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education to become district-only elections. The NAACP San Diego Branch proudly joins with other organizations seeking to change the City Charter to create district-only elections for school board trustees. Again, we ask you to place this proposal on the ballot in November.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please contact me if you have any questions.

Brian Bonner, First Vice President
NAACP San Diego Branch