March 21, 2022 10:57 a.m.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and the City of Santa Monica jointly filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization (County Committee) challenging the constitutionality of a state law recently enacted Senate Bill 442, aimed at preserving the right of voters in Santa Monica and Malibu to vote on how they elect their school board.
SB 442, which became effective January 1, 2022, authorizes the county committee, by resolution, to approve a proposal to establish trusteeship areas and elect board members using level elections. of the district without submitting the resolution to the voters of the city and the district for approval. For more than 100 years, the City of Santa Monica Charter has consistently provided for the Board of Education to be elected at-large. Section 900 of the Charter states that “the school board shall consist of seven members elected by the school district as a whole”.
“This matter is not about whether Members of the SMMUSD board of directors should continue to be elected at large or by the districts in the trusteeship area. It’s about WHO should have the right to make that decision,” said school board president Maria Leon-Vazquez. “The City of Santa Monica and its District firmly believe that the decision to move to elections in the Trusteeship Area should be made by SMMUSD residents and voters, not by a committee of unelected representatives with little or no links with Santa Monica or Malibu. .”
The SMMUSD School Board voted 6-0 behind closed doors on March 17, 2022 (Craig Foster was absent) to move forward with this lawsuit. The City of Santa Monica voted 5-2 on February 8, 2022 to support SMMUSD and oppose voiding the city charter at any county committee hearing on school district organization and , if necessary, through litigation.
“For a charter city like Santa Monica, this law violates our sovereignty under the California Constitution and infringes on our municipal affairs,” said Santa Monica Mayor Sue Himmelrich. “The community of Santa Monica has the right – with its votes – to make changes to the electoral system and the Santa Monica City Charter, not a committee with jurisdiction over Los Angeles County as a whole. “
The new law violates the California Constitution’s guarantee that charter cities like Santa Monica may provide in their municipal charters “how, when, and on what terms members of boards of education shall be elected or appointed.” .
In accordance with the California Constitution, any change in the manner of electing members of the Board of Education from general elections to administration area elections requires amending the Santa Monica City Charter, and that in turn can only happen if a majority of all qualified voters in the entire school district (Santa Monica and Malibu residents) approve of the change.
Under the purported authority of SB 442, the county committee, prior to this lawsuit being filed, was set to hold a hearing to consider whether to effectively strike down Section 900 of the city charter and impose elections in the trusteeship area without submitting the proposed change to SMMUSD voters for their approval.
The county committee is a statutory body consisting of 11 members elected at an annual meeting of representatives of school district trustees, with at least two members to be elected from each county supervisory district. This means that at least eight members of this 11-member committee have absolutely no connection to Santa Monica, Malibu or SMMUSD. Since none of its members are elected by SMMUSD voters, the committee cannot be held accountable by those voters.
“We want to ensure that if voters decide in the future to move to board members by trusteeship area, the draw for those districts should be done through a public and transparent process with a local contribution, and not imposed unilaterally by a committee with limited powers. knowledge of SMMUSD,” said school board vice-chairman Dr. Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein.
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