GUSTINE — The Gustine Unified School District is the latest public board to adopt district elections for trustee seats under the threat of a voting rights lawsuit.
Trustees approved the move this month on a 4-1 vote after receiving a letter requesting district elections from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. Board President Pat Rocha was the dissenting vote.
Though most of California's governing boards hold at-large elections, Gustine Unified voters will elect trustees next year based on geographic districts. The district in northwestern Merced County enrolls about 1,730 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights has sent letters and aimed lawsuits at Mo- desto and other local governments in the Central Valley. Modesto tried to overturn the law at the center of the case and lost in late 2007. The city paid a $3 million settlement.
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Proponents of district elections say voting by geographic regions leads to more diverse boards and better representation for voters.
The central point in the letters is the California Voting Rights Act, which allows people to sue governing boards for district elections to improve minority representation.
People of Portuguese descent comprise a large portion of Gustine's population and three of Gustine Unified's five trustees are Portuguese.
Gustine Unified's trustees will use demographic data from the upcoming Census 2010 to draw voting boundaries for the next trustee election in November 2011, Superintendent Gail McWilliams said.
The Turlock Unified School District will move to district elections in 2013. Ceres Unified School District and Modesto City Council voters had their first crack at the new design last November.