School District Sues Over Elections
SMMUSD Wants to Preserve Tradition of Electing At-Large School Board Members
April 7, 2022
By Jack Simon, Observer Staff Writer
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and City of Santa Monica have filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization County Committee, challenging the constitutionality of a new state law dealing with school board elections.
Senate Bill 442, which went into effect January 1, authorizes the County Committee to approve a proposal to establish trustee areas and elect governing board members using district-based elections without submitting the resolution to the electors of the City and District for approval.
School District officials stated that for more 100 years the Santa Monica City Charter has continuously provided for members of the Board of Education to be elected at large and the lawsuit was filed to preserve the voting rights of Santa Monica and Malibu voters on how they elect their school board.
“This case is not about whether SMMUSD Board members should continue to be elected at large or by trustee-area districts. It is about who should be entitled to make that decision,” said School Board President Maria Leon-Vazquez. “The City of Santa Monica and District strongly believe the decision whether to move to trustee-area elections should be made by the residents and voters of SMMUSD, not by a committee composed of unelected representatives with little or no ties to either Santa Monica or Malibu.”
At its recent meeting, the School Board voted 6-0 in closed session to move forward with this lawsuit. In February, the Santa Monica City Council voted 5-2 to support the School District and to oppose the nullification of the City Charter.
“The Santa Monica community is entitled - with their votes - to make changes to Santa Monica's election system and City Charter, not a committee with purview over Los Angeles County as a whole,” said Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich.
According to the California Constitution, district officials said, any change in the manner of electing members of the Board of Education from at-large to trustee-area elections requires amending the Santa Monica City Charter and that can only occur if a majority of all of the qualified electors of the entire school district (residents of both Santa Monica and Malibu) approve the change.
Prior to the filing of the lawsuit last week, the County Committee was poised under SB442 to hold a hearing to consider effectively nullifying part of the City Charter and imposing trustee-area elections without submitting the proposed change to the District’s voters for their approval, said District officials.
“We want to ensure that if voters decide in the future to move to by-trustee-area board members, the drawing of those districts should be done through a public and transparent process with local input, not forced through unilaterally by a committee with limited familiarity about SMMUSD,” said School Board Vice President Dr. Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein.