Clovis Unified trustees learned Wednesday how the district’s current trustee area map compares to a nonprofit’s submitted map known as Map 201.
One of the two maps will determine how trustees are elected in the future, starting with the November 2024 election when they will be elected by area instead of districtwide.
The district is changing the method of elections to be in line with the California Voting Rights Act. Voting rights advocates consider by-area elections important for minority representation on elected bodies.
In addition, the district had received a letter this summer from a law firm warning that if it continued to elect trustees at large it could face a civil lawsuit for violating the Voting Rights Act. But district officials said plans were already underway to transition to area elections before the letter arrived.
Clint Olivier, who was elected last year to represent Area 1 and is one of the board’s two newest trustees, expressed concerns at Wednesday’s School Board meeting over whether future trustees, who will only have to win election within their area, might lose sight of Clovis trustees’ longstanding goal to consider the greater good of the district in their decision-making.
“The new system will require that they only campaign in a small area and cater to that and be responsive to that one small area. And if I get an invitation to go to Bud Rank (Elementary) to see the kids do something really fantastic, why bother? Those parents are not my constituents anymore and those parents can’t vote for me anymore, so why bother? … And, of course, it’s not my response. I like to go to everything, everywhere, all the time. But I think that when a different group comes in and the tradition and the energy and the ethos of the board changes, we’re going to become like the city of Fresno,” said Olivier, who previously represented central Fresno on the Fresno City Council.
Longtime Trustee Tiffany Stoker Madsen said that she expects district staffers will remind trustees of their responsibility toward the entire district, not just their area.
“I have to look out at this team out here and they’re not going to change the way they work,” Stoker Madsen said, referring to staffers at the meeting. And they see Clovis Unified as Clovis Unified. … I don’t see them letting that happen.”
Two Maps Vary
Jeff Tilton, a demographer with the National Demographics Corporation, explained the difference between the current trustee map and Map 201, which was submitted by the nonprofit organization Equitable Maps Coalition. Instead of taking another look at boundary lines, the district decided to use its current trustee area map, which was drawn up using 2020 Census data.
The current map includes multiple high schools encompassing each of the seven trustee areas, which trustees say they value so they aren’t identified as representing a single high school area.
Map 201 more evenly balances out district population among the seven areas — its deviation, or the difference between the biggest and smallest trustee areas, is .49%, compared to 4.6% for the current map, Tilton said. Under federal law, the deviation must be lower than 10%, he said.
Tilton said Map 201 would dilute the voting strength of people of color, particularly in the southern part of the district. The current map has two trustee areas in which the majority of voters are people of color, but Map 201 has only one, he said.
And unlike the current map, Map 201 would put the residences of four trustees into two trustee areas. Under traditional redistricting, Tilton said, efforts are made to “respect the voters” whose choices put trustees into office.
But Jesus Garcia, a demographer with the Equitable Maps Coalition, told GV Wire previously that maintaining the sanctity of trustee areas is not considered a best practice for demographers. Garcia said he was unable to attend Wednesday’s board meeting because of a family matter.
He previously told GV Wire that Map 201 would give greater voice to the district’s Hispanic and Asian voters.
The Clovis Unified School Board will hold a fifth public hearing on the trustee election maps at the Oct. 18 meeting and then select the preferred map. The maps then go to the Fresno County Commission on School District Reorganization, which has to hold at least one public hearing before voting to approve or reject the district’s change from at-large to by-area elections.
Four seats will be up for election in November 2024: Area 2, now held by Board President David DeFrank, Area 4 (Hugh Awtrey), Area 5 (Dr. Steven Fogg), and Area 7 (Yolanda Moore). Moore is the board’s only person of color.