Opinion: It’s Time for By-Trustee-Area Elections

FOR THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

Former Natomas Unified School District trustee Teri Burns.

When I was first elected to the Natomas School Board in 1985 there were fewer than 1,000 students and only two schools — American Lakes Elementary and Natomas Junior High. Almost all of the small population of the district was tucked into the area near Bel Air, off Truxel Road between West El Camino and San Juan. Elections to the board were at-large, as they are now.

Growth in Natomas has not been steady, but in fits and starts depending on the economy and two flood moratoriums. Every time growth restarted, the patterns were different than what had been projected just years before.

But growth did happen and happen quickly, causing rapid demand for school construction. Voters in Natomas supported school construction bonds and the board of trustees worked very hard to ensure that funding was balanced between the need for new schools and needed renovations and upgrades to existing schools.

In 2011, the board first seriously considered transitioning to trustee areas and commissioned a study of our most diverse district in the state. The results showed that, unlike more segregated communities, trustee areas in Natomas likely disenfranchised ethnic groups from being able to elect a member of the board. Similarly, we noted that we were only just above half of the projected student count in the district at build out. I, and other members of the board, felt that we should wait until further growth patterns played out before going to trustee area elections.

Now in 2021, we’ve seen significant increases in population in Natomas with the mix of residential units changed yet again from early plans. We are much closer to seeing Natomas finally built out and knowing what our district will be shaped like for years to come. The vastly increased number of voters makes it harder for trustees to reach out to everyone and may make some areas of the district feel under represented.

As a result, I believe the time has come for trustee areas in Natomas. It has its pros and cons. While trustee areas ensure that every neighborhood has a specific advocate to raise their issues at board meetings, it can also have the side effect of allowing other board members to not focus on the concerns of those areas. It is important to elect board members who are looking out for all of our children.

Speaking of elections, trustee areas will make it easier for individuals to take that first step into elected office because the time and money needed to reach voters in each area will be far less than campaigning in the district as a whole. That will mean that voters need to distinguish well-rounded candidates from single-issue folks who are running only to change the football coach or some policy at their school site.

Representative government calls on us all to participate, know our candidates and choose wisely people who will represent all of our community well. We all have a responsibility, whether we have children in school or not, to elect board members who use our resources wisely, respect students and staff and reach out to the public for input in their decisions.

Natomas resident B. Teri Burns was first elected to the Natomas Unified School District board of trustees in 1985, prior to unification. She served as a trustee for 33 years through 2018.

The Natomas Unified School District has started the process to shift away from at-large representation on its school board to a by-trustee area election system starting with the 2022 election. The district’s board of trustees will hold its second public hearing about possible configurations for trustee areas during a meeting scheduled for 5:15 p.m. tonight, Sept. 14. The meeting will be held virtually and can be viewed by CLICKING HERE.

In 2011, the Natomas Unified School District considered moving from at-large elections to by-trustee-area elections. This map was considered until trustees decided to table making the change.

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