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PUSD Board Praises Electoral Districting Plan

The board will officially take action on the plan at a later meeting.

The Pasadena Unified School District school board and residents praised a task force's "consensus map" plan on how to divide the district into seven electoral sub-districts following a presentation at the board's regular Tuesday evening meeting, seemingly clearing the way for the board to officially approve the plan the next time it's brought before them.

"Wow, just tremendous work," said board member Tom Selinske. "I want to support this."

The plan, according to its architects, aimed to give a solid amount of voting power to Sierra Madre and Altadena, which would have a say in two of the map's proposed districts.

The PUSD Districting Task Force examined four proposed maps before releasing the "consensus map" plan that was discussed Tuesday night. The plan thus far is a culmination of work since January 2011, when the school board green-lit the creation of the districting task force to examine how best to split up the district. The task force held public meetings and worked on developing maps of geographic sub-districts that would make board members accountable to specific geographic areas of Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre.

"We really were thinking about PUSD and the kids as a whole," said Ken Chawkins, the task force's chairman who also kicked off the presentation to the board, which you can see to the right of this article.

Task force member Victor Gonzalez broke down the various maps and demographics that came into the final map's creation, which was aided by a "significant amount of community feedback." He stressed it was important to give a stronger electoral voice for Altadena and Sierra Madre, pointing out input from the Sierra Madre city council and its desire to be attached to the southern part of PUSD, which is reflected in the map.

A majority of the residents who commented at the meeting had only positive feedback for the task force's work, among them Altadena residents Tom and Monica Hubbard. Tom called the plan the product of "thoughtful listening and careful balancing of sometimes competing wants and needs," while Monica appreciated how the plan reached out to "all corners of PUSD" and that the plan "shows what's possible when the collective wisdom of communities is engaged."

Issues raised

But Sandra Siraganian of Sierra Madre called the proposal a "huge mistake, and will likely create adversarial relationships between the sub-districts and fractionalize PUSD." She added that sub-districts allow PUSD residents to vote for only one board member instead all of them as they do now.

"That is less democracy, not more," she said. 

Siraganian also questioned how the task force approached its numbering of the districts. The plan has Sierra Madre in "vacant" District 6, with a trustee to be elected in 2015 "instead of adhering to previous discussions which are recorded in the task force meeting notes" to put Sierra Madre in a district that would be able to vote in 2013. Instead, District 1 -- the northwestern chunk of PUSD -- would be able vote in 2013.

The plan for District 1 outlines that board member Ramon Miramontes can run in 2013, while Kim Kenne can run in 2013 or continue with her elected term, which ends in 2015. The problem, Siraganian said, is that Miramontes terms out in 2013.

"So why is the task force stating that Trustee Miramontes can run in 2013 when the trustee is required to run for office in the district in which he resides, and this one has a trustee whose term does not expire in 2015?" she asked. 

Siraganian wasn't alone with concerns. Various local members of the League of United Latin American Citizens (L.U.L.A.C.), voiced concerns in Spanish and English about adequate representation of the Latino community -- a point also made by Siraganian, who said the task force "manipulated the numbering of three vacant districts (2, 3, and 6) to prevent Sierra Madre, northeast Pasadena, northeast Altadena and northwest Pasadena -- a predominantly Hispanic and black district -- from being represented until 2015."

Each board member took turns in commending the work of the task force and the plan itself. Board member Ed Honowitz called the work "unprecedented" while acknowledging that a "perfect" solution doesn't exist. Miramontes cautioned all to gain a "full 360 perspective" on the plan, but also supported the task force's work. 

The consensus plan was noted as a discussion item in the Tuesday night agenda, which means the board did not officially take any action on it. That will come at a subsequent meeting. If approved, the shift from at-large elections to the sub-districts heads to the June ballot. Voters shot down a similar districting plan 10 years ago.

For more about the task force's work, check out the links below:

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