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Trustee districts in CVESD
and Sweetwater Unified
School District

The current system prevents CVESD
incumbents, who all live in Bonita, from
having to run against each other
Some seek to broaden board membership

Representation by areas is sought
By Chris Moran
November 3, 2007

In January, the Chula Vista Elementary School District board had a
vacancy to fill after one of its members was elected mayor.

The four remaining trustees, all residents of Bonita, had 39 applicants
for the opening. They appointed a neighbor, making it a clean Bonita
sweep of the five-member board.

But that's not representative government, say petitioners who propose
establishing five trustee areas within the Chula Vista district. Under
present rules, anyone who lives in the district can run for any seat. The
petition for a ballot initiative calls for allowing only a resident of a given
area to represent it on the board.

A parallel petition would make the same change for the Sweetwater
Union High School District. Three of its five trustees live in Bonita.

On Tuesday, the plan will get its first public hearing. The county Board
of Education has called a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. at the Chula
Vista district headquarters, 84 E. J St., to hear the pros and cons of the
plan. The board is scheduled to decide next month whether to put it on
the ballot next year.

“I think governing bodies function better when you have differing views
on a board. Otherwise, a lot of complacency or a lack of urgency sets
in when it's not affecting you and your own,” said Russell Coronado, a
petition organizer.

Coronado's premise is this: Trustees hear a lot of their input in the
grocery store checkout line, at the neighborhood park or when picking
the kids up from practice. If everyone lives in the same neighborhood,
the trustees all hear from the same people.

Defenders of the status quo say one's ZIP code doesn't make a good
board member. Hard work, lots of listening and a kids-first outlook do.

Sweetwater district trustee Jim Cartmill, a resident of Eastlake, said
much of the constituent feedback he gets is through e-mail and cell
phone calls.

“It's not like we're in a cocoon in our own community,” Cartmill said. “I
go to a church with 4,500 people on a Sunday, and believe me, they're
not all from Eastlake.”

The Chula Vista and Sweetwater districts have numbered seats on
their boards. Candidates pick a number, not a neighborhood, and run
for that seat. Legislation by then-state Sen. Steve Peace established
the Sweetwater system in 1990 and Chula Vista's in 1994.

Of the 42 public school districts in the county, only Santee uses the
same system as Chula Vista and Sweetwater.

The county Board of Education, San Diego Unified and Mountain
Empire Unified school districts all have trustee areas. In the rest of the
county, the top overall vote-getters win seats on the board.

Coronado said the numbered-seat system gives incumbents an edge
by protecting them from having to run against each other.
Cartmill said just the opposite.

He beat 20-year incumbent Judith Bauer in the first numbered-seat
election in 1990. It allowed him to go one-on-one with Bauer. The
previous system of top vote-getters from among a large field can split
the anti-incumbent vote, he said.

Nov. 9 is the deadline for getting a measure on the February ballot.
The county board won't take action Tuesday but plans to approve or
reject the petition in December, said Nick Aguilar, who represents
South County on the board. An approval of the petition in December
would qualify the measure for the June ballot.
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