As the Santa Barbara Unified School District prepares to shift from at-large to district elections, community and board members are split on what trustee-area configuration will provide the most equitable outcomes for voters and future board members.
The board narrowed the options for district layouts to three scenarios Tuesday night, electing Scenarios Five, Six, and A, which is a map submitted by the Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) and the student group Future Leaders of America. These three maps will be discussed at the next board meeting on February 8, when the final decision will be made.
Scenarios Five and A both propose five districts, but Scenario Five creates one district to include all neighborhoods west of Carrillo and north to Goleta. Eastside districts would combine neighborhoods above Santa Barbara Street with those in Montecito and on the Riviera.
Dozens of community members spoke in support of Scenario A, which is divided into five districts. These districts are designed to prevent diluting the voting power of the city’s Latine community by being lumped into mostly white, high-income neighborhoods. The other two proposed maps divided these majority Latine communities.
Speaking against Scenario Six, Daniel Gonzalez, a director from Future Leaders of America said that the plan for seven districts “would have a negative impact on a school district that is majority Latinx.” Gonzalez and other supporters argued that the Scenario A map complies with the California Voters Rights Act by putting the east and west side neighborhoods — which are made up of mostly Latine, English learning, and first-generation residents — in one district. “Placing communities that share no similarities or struggles together,” Gonzales said, “only serves to dilute the voting power of the protected class.”
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Opponents of Scenario A and proponents of Scenario Six, which is divided into seven districts, argued that creating more districts would provide more opportunities for teachers and parents to work with their representatives, and that more districts would lead directly to more input and representation.
Critics of Scenario Six pointed out that equal is not always equitable, and though in theory more trustee areas would lead to more voices being heard, the seven-district layout would only disenfranchise low-income and majority people-of-color populations living in the Eastside, Westside, Isla Vista, and Old Town Goleta.
Board members Virginia Alvarez, Wendy Sims-Moten, and Laura Capps and board president Rose Muñoz were mostly in favor of having five districts and would be focusing on scenarios Five and A. Capps did say the board should include the seven-district configuration at its February meeting. Board member Kate Ford was in support of Scenario Six, saying she believed the additional district would encourage more community engagement.
The board will decide the final district configuration at its next meeting on February 8 and will make its decision then.