Judge approves WCCUSD trustee area map, ending litigation

Judge approves WCCUSD trustee area map, ending litigation
The newly approved WCCUSD trustee map.

A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge today approved a map creating trustee areas in the West Contra Costa Unified School District, a crucial step in changing the way voters will elect members of the Board of Education starting with the 2020 election.

In March last year, the WCCUSD Board of Education voted to move from an at large system of elections, where voters elect all five district board members, to a “by-trustee” system where voters elect only the board member who represents a defined area within the district where they reside.

The vote came the same day a lawsuit was filed by a Walnut Creek attorney alleging that WCCUSD’s at-large system for electing Board of Education members violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. The suit claims at-large elections give unfair advantage to candidates in more affluent areas, often disadvantaging minorities.

An initial trustee area map was rejected by the County Committee on School District Organization. A revised version, however, has been approved by the court following negotiations between the plaintiff and district. The district said the approved map also incorporates public input.

The map “seeks to create at least two trustee areas in which traditionally underrepresented communities have a better opportunity to elect representatives of their choosing to the Board of Education,” the district said in a statement.

“Under the terms, voters in WCCUSD will elect members to the Board of Education by geographic area beginning in 2020 and have trustee area boundaries drawn and approved by an independent commission beginning with the 2022 election,” according to the district.

All five seats on the Board will be up for election in 2020.

The judge’s decision today ends the litigation against the district, although the judgment directs the directs to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees of $280,000 (in addition to the $30,600 previously paid).

WCCUSD is one of many jurisdictions across the state, not just school boards but also city councils, that have been transitioning away from at-large elections under threat of legal action.

“I am pleased to draw this litigation to a close and look forward to returning our focus to ensuring that our students get the best educational experiences possible,” Board President Tom Panas said. “It is the hope of this Board that the transition to trustee areas elections will give residents elected representatives who are passionate and effective advocates for all of the children in this District.”

For more information, go: www.wccusd.net/trusteeareas.