New maps spell more change for VUSD board

Citizen-drawn maps D & E would place two trustees into a single district and leave another blank

VISALIA – The Visalia Unified school board has had 13 different trustees serve in seven seats in the last year and a half, and, later this year, some of the seats might change again.

Some of the sitting trustees may be in the same district for the November election depending on which maps are approved by the school board as part of the redistricting process going on in political districts throughout the state.

Two citizen-drawn redistricting maps were presented to the school board at its Jan. 11 meeting. Map D, drafted by Visalia resident Maile Melkonian, and Map E, drafted by Visalia resident Robert Quiroz, were not only drastically different from the previous three prepared by the district’s consultant SchoolWorks, they also grouped two sitting trustees into a single district and left another vacant.

Map D enlarges districts in central Visalia and adds a district between the northeastern and southeastern districts. It also pairs trustees Catalina Blair and Walta Gamoian into the same district, meaning the two would have to run against each other in the November election.

Melkonian, who pointed out the law prohibited the board from taking political parties or current trustees into account, said her map was more compact than the other maps and created communities of interest through high school district boundaries, including a fifth comprehensive high school in the future. Golden West High School’s boundary was split among two districts because it encompasses a large area north to Ivanhoe and east to Farmersville. A community of interest is a geographical area (such as a neighborhood) that would benefit from being in the same district because of shared interests, views, or characteristics. Downtown areas, historic districts, and housing subdivisions are a few examples of areas that would be communities of interest.

“I thought that it would be a good idea to try to build the communities of interest around the high schools and their feeder schools,” Melkonian said.

Map E takes all of the northern city limits and the rural schools of Goshen, Ivanhoe and Elbow Creek elementary and combines them into a single district, giving them more of a voice on the board through a shared trustee district. The major shift would pair Gamoian and Jacqui Gaebe into a single district, but Gaebe would retain her seat until 2024 unless she decided to run for the new district this November.

“So, they’re going to have increased voting power and they’ll have greater control for their kids’ education,” Quiroz said of the rural schools.

Quiroz said his goal was to create two strong Hispanic majority districts with a Citizen Voting Age Population of at about 60% (59.13%, 66.60%) and three others at least 40% Hispanic. In addition to lumping rural schools together, Quiroz also attempted to use major roads as natural political boundaries to create communities of interest.

Maps A, B and C only slightly change the orientation of the current districts. These maps only have one “strong” Hispanic Citizen Voting Age Population (H-CVAP) of 55% or greater; however, the Federal Voting Rights Act threshold for having a minority-majority district would be more than 40%, based on Visalia’s current demographics. Maps B and E had more H-CVAP districts, five, than any other map and Map C had the smallest peak deviation in from the least to the most populated district of 0.56%.

All of the maps meet all legal requirements for having a population deviation of less than 10%, have at least one minority-majority district and considered public feedback of considering feeder and high schools in each district.

The board is slated to approve a map at its Jan. 25 meeting but had until Feb. 28 to approve a map. Links to the current boundaries and proposed maps for redistricting can be found by clicking the.”

VUSD Trustee Area Redistricting Process & Timeline” on the home page at vusd.org.

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