By Mike Harris
Publisher and Editor
The way voters elect trustees to the Rim of the World Unified School District school board is about to change thanks to fears that the district will be sued and taken to court.
At the regular school board meeting on Aug. 22, board president Cindy Gardner expressed concern that the district would be facing the same lawsuit threat that many other California school districts have faced or are facing.
It all stems from the California Voting Rights Act signed into law in 2002, which makes it easier for minority groups to pressure cities and school districts to change from at-large elections to a district-based system.
Currently, voters residing within the Rim schools boundary elect trustees at large. Even though there are three districts – Crestline, Lake Arrowhead and Running Springs – all eligible voters can vote for any candidates running for the five trustee positions.
“We technically are in violation (of the California Voting Rights Act) because we are mountain wide,” she said. “Small districts are being hit with these lawsuits.”
Gardner said there is a California attorney who is the individual bringing these lawsuits to school districts, adding that the attorney is making money by threatening to take school districts to court or taking them to court and winning.
Gardner asked attorney Ronald Wenkart, partner with Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud and Romo, to step up and explain what Rim is potentially facing. He explained the situation and noted that some districts have spent thousands of dollars in lawsuits.
The typical cost is $30,000 because that is the minimum amount of damages the lawyer is asking for.
“No public agencies have won these lawsuits,” said Wenkart.
Gardner said the issue facing Rim was urgent, and that the board would need to spend money to pay for a demographic study of minority groups residing within Rim’s boundaries, develop boundaries for each district, hold four public meetings on the issue and pay for an election.
She said the concept was that Rim would still have five trustees but that each trustee would represent one of the five unique districts and only eligible voters would vote for candidates running for each district seat.
After Wenkart finished his presentation, Rim’s trustees voted 5-0 to change to a district-based system, hire a demographer to do the study and develop district maps, and that the first of four public hearings would be held within 30 days.
“Yes, this will cost the district to do all this, but it will be less than the cost of facing a lawsuit,” Gardner said.