VUSD board approves new political maps

Visalia Unified trustees unanimously approve new map which slightly differs in geography, creates a single minority majority district for the voting age population of Hispanics

VISALIA – Current Visalia Unified trustees will not have to face off against each other this November after the district approved a map last week which keeps every board member in their current trustee area.

At its Jan. 25 meeting, the Visalia Unified School District board unanimously approved a map which avoids clumping two trustees into a single district and leaving another unrepresented until the following election cycle. Known as Map C, the primary changes under the new map have Area 3 dropping slightly south and Area 7 shifting slightly to the west.

Ken Reynolds, a demographer with SchoolWorks consulting, said cities and counties are required to comply with both the federal Voting Rights Act, which bans the gerrymandering or packing of minorities to dilute their voting power, and the California Fair Maps Act, which requires governing boards to consider social data to create minority majority districts. However, Reynolds said the Fair Maps Act did not apply to school districts, meaning all five of the maps presented to the board were maps meeting all of the legal requirements.

Maile Melkonian, who presented Map D, said Hispanics were protected class under the federal law and so the district should create as many minority majority districts as it could while still balancing the population. She said her map created two “strong” minority majority districts with at least 55% of the Hispanic Voting Age Population (H-CVAP) in Areas 2 and 6, which is more in keeping with the spirit of the voting related laws.

“It would seem, based on our population which is 44% Hispanic, there should be two H-CVAP districts,” or more than a quarter of the votes on the board, Melkonian said.

Board Clerk Walta Gamoian wasted little time in making a motion to approve a map and suggested Map C. Similar to the other two maps created by the consultant, Map C only created one strong minority majority district in Area 6, with an H-CVAP of 66%. Map C was seconded by Trustee Catalina Blair as it was the map with the least amount of population deviation between the largest and smallest trustee areas at less than 1%, well under the allowable peak deviation of 10%.

Trustee Megan Casebeer Soleno said she was fine with either Map C or B but was leaning toward C because it created stronger H-CVAP areas. Trustee Randy Villegas said he was leaning toward Map B because it had four of the seven areas with at least 40% H-CVAP and three others just below 40% but still only created one H-CVAP district over 55%.

The motion for Map C was approved unanimously on a 7-0 vote yet board president Juan Guerrero, Trustee Joy Naylor and Villagas all made comments they preferred Map B while voting in favor of C.

The only member of the public to speak out on the board’s decision to approve a map was Del Simons. She said there didn’t seem to be enough board discussion about which map each board member preferred prior to voting on Map C, since at least four board members said they may have preferred Map B as they were voting on a motion for the former. She called for the board to rescind their votes and then vote by paper ballot to be read aloud by staff to ensure each member was voting for the map they preferred since the deadline to approve a map was still more than a month away on Feb. 28.

None of that happened and there was no discussion from the board, so the district will move forward with Map C to redraw its political boundaries. That means each district will continue to be represented by a single trustee and no one trustee area will be without representation until the next election cycle. Gamoian (Area 1), Guerrero (Area 2), Naylor (Area 3), and Trustee Catalina Blair (Area 4) will be up for election under the new area boundaries this November. Trustees Soleno (Area 5), Villagas (Area 6), and Jacqui Gaebe (Area 7) will not be up for election under the new areas until 2024.

Map C can be accessed on the district’s website by clicking the “VUSD Trustee Area Redistricting Process and Timeline” on the home page at vusd.org.

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