San Dieguito board selects new trustee area map, constituents file lawsuit

The new SDUHSD trustee area map.

The San Dieguito Union High School’s district’s often divisive redistricting process came to its conclusion around 11:30 p.m on Feb. 17, after nearly six hours of board debate.

The board voted 3-2 in favor of the new Map 8, a map that rearranges the district into two coastal areas and three inland areas,

After the 2020 census, San Dieguito’s trustee area map was out of compliance due to population growth— a boundary adjustment was required under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) to ensure that the population is nearly equal across all five trustee areas. According to attorney Milton Foster, as the district had a total variance of 27.9% and the goal was to have a variance below 10%. Map 8 had the lowest variance of the three final maps with 5.9%

According to Foster, the underlying principle behind the CVRA is making sure that the district does not impair the ability of a protected class to elect the candidate of its choice: “The board needs to be mindful of not unnecessarily decreasing the voting power across certain groups.”

SDUHSD Vice President Michael Allman made the motion to approve Map 8 as it provided the lowest population variance and in some areas increased representation among Asian and Hispanic/Latino populations: “Eight is the best map for us,” Allman said.

SDUHSD Clerk Melisse Mossy said she knew the board’s decision would not make everyone happy but she felt all three of the final maps were much more contiguous than the district’s prior map, adopted five years ago in a quieter and less contentious process. She said she was choosing map 8 because it had the lowest variance.

“I knew this would be difficult but I had no idea it would be this difficult,” Mossy said. “I hope whatever happens, people will stop the hate and really disrespectful and nasty emails and comments. I don’t go on social media but sometimes things get back to me and it’s just hurtful and not what I want to model for students.”

With the boundary adjustment, the existing trustee area numbers would follow the existing election cycle.

“Nobody loses their seat on the board by way of this process,” Foster said, however, map 8 leaves both Mossy and Allman in Area 4. Mossy will need to step off the board when her term expires this year and would not be able to run again until 2024.

Area 5 is now in Area 3 so SDUHSD Trustee Julie Bronstein will be required to run in her new area in 2022 and Area 5 would be open for a new board member. SDUHSD Trustee Katrina Young now lives in Area 1 as does SDUHSD President Mo Muir but Young will remain the Area 2 representative for the remainder of her term until 2024.

Those opposed to map 8, Trustees Bronstein and Young, questioned the map’s validity and legality under CVRA as a complete redraw as opposed to a simple adjustment.

“Because I believe that Map 8 fractures communities of interest, broadly disrupts our current boundaries, renumbers two areas, exchanges current middle/high school representation for four of the trustee areas and denies 30% of our district a voice in the 2022 election, I do not believe it meets the requirement of the CVRA process,” Young said.

In Bronstein’s view, the district’s racial minority representation has also been diluted.

The board said they were inundated with emails about the maps, some with accusations of politically-motivated gerrymandering and voter disenfranchisement and others accusing the San Dieguito Faculty Association as driving support for alternative map option 1C. Mossy said she was very discouraged by some of the things that were said that were “not kind or close to the truth in many cases.”

One community member lodged a detailed complaint with the San Diego County Office of Education, prompting County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold to issue a note of caution to the board.

“Although we support a district’s obligation to make changes to trustee areas consistent with the CVRA… we do not support the creation of trustee areas that serve to disenfranchise voters, are contrary to the basic provisions and purpose of the CVRA or undermine the authority of the county committee to establish boundaries pursuant to Cal. Education Code section 5019,” Gothold wrote. “The requirements of the CVRA are stringent and non-compliance renders a district subject to lawsuits with the possibility of the imposition of penalties and attorney’s fees.”

The map has already drawn legal action—on Feb. 21, a lawsuit was filed in San Diego County Superior Court by plaintiffs Carol Chang and Lisa Montes challenging the “illegal rearrangement of the five trustee-area boundaries”.

The lawsuit alleges that the district’s map violates the law, “substantially divides” the Hispanic/Latino and Asian populations by reducing their percentages in two areas and re-arranges the boundaries of trustee areas in order to give the board majority’s members an electoral advantage in upcoming elections and put the minority’s two members at a disadvantage.

According to Corey Briggs, attorney for the plaintiffs, San Dieguito should not submit the new trustee-area map to the San Diego County Office of Education until the lawsuit is resolved.

Given the contentiousness of the issue and the accusations of politics getting caught up in the process, at the meeting Bronstein made a motion to hit the pause button and remove all the current maps from consideration. She argued that the process has been flawed—citing the board’s Feb. 10 meeting that was intended to be a public hearing but “fell far short” as the board was not able to have a comprehensive discussion in open session. The final three maps’ selection was rushed and not transparent, she said.

“While serving on the board it is my goal to work on bringing the community together and to do what I can to facilitate consensus both within the board room and the community,” Bronstein said. “It pains me to see the division that is currently occurring within our community.”

After Bronstein’s motion to start over from scratch failed 3-2, Young made a motion to have the county decide the map for the district: “We are still divided in this room and very divided in the community,” she said. “They’ve already given us a warning to proceed with caution and that way no one can accuse us of doing anything untoward.”

Muir said it was the board’s job to make this decision, she believed they had taken public input into account, did their due diligence and she did not support ceding power to the county. Young’s motion also failed 3-2.

“Not a single district in the county has shirked their responsibility and kicked it over to the county, not one,” Allman said. “The people elected us to make a decision.”

“This is over, it’s time to end it now,” he said. “Sometimes we have to do the right thing even when it’s a very, very hard thing.”

With the lawsuit now filed, it is possible now that the county could take over.

Per Gothold’s letter, should the county not receive a qualified plan by March 1, the County Committee would work to adopt a redistricting map compliant with CVRA prior to April 30. In that case, the county would seek reimbursement from SDUHSD for all costs incurred in the process.