Later today, the Santa Rosa school board is prepared to approve new boundaries for the first by-district elections.
The school board is acting on two faulty beliefs:
First, the board has stated that board members, or trustees, will be there to serve the whole district, not their local populations.
While the board as a whole will certainly make decisions about the whole district, each trustee will be focused on his or her own district. Each will have his or her own constituency and will be answerable to his or her own voters.
This is similar to our Board of Supervisors. Each supervisor certainly has a specific interest and focus on his or her district. When I have a county issue, I go to my supervisor, not the Board of Supervisors as a whole. I expect my supervisor to give our district first priority.
Second, the school board has stated that today’s situation where people living in one of the eight feeder elementary districts can be and are elected to run the Santa Rosa elementary school district is the same as the likely future arrangement in which some board members running the elementary district are prohibited from living in the elementary district or having any elementary district constituents.
Under the current system, while a board member might live outside the elementary district, he or she is answerable to voters in the elementary district and has a fiduciary duty to them.
Under three of the four scenarios before the board today, one or two of the school board members will have no interest in the elementary district. In fact, those board members would have perverse incentives to divert funds and resources from the elementary students to the secondary students.
In these districts, if the board member had strong interests in elementary education, he would run for his own elementary district board.
At the meeting of May 14, the school board had its legal advisor state that it is permissible to have a situation where the elementary district is run by people who are prohibited from living in the elementary district.
The lawyers can fight it out, but the current board should rise above this and seek fair representation for all local residents and voters.
The current board should seek to improve community involvement and support of local schools, not to undermine it. The board should reject all current scenarios and develop fair boundaries for by-district elections.
Michael Von der Porten is a Santa Rosa resident.