Perris Union High School District Pioneers New Election Process

The Perris Union High School District will be the first of its kind to transition from at-large to trustee area elections in order to sidest...

The Perris Union High School District will be the first of its kind to transition from at-large to trustee area elections in order to sidestep a hefty lawsuit aimed at alleged violators of the California Voting Rights Act.

A potential legal case has been in the board members’ peripheral vision for three and a half years as they witnessed the costly demise of city councils, school districts and other community organizations statewide for holding at-large elections that typically do not favor the minority vote.

To avoid a similar fate, the board decided to postpone their upcoming elections and hire a demographer to map out prospective trustee areas within the district boundaries.

“We are going to be pioneers,” superintendent Jonathon Greenberg said during a special board of trustees meeting held on July 6. He added that Perris would be the first out of 23 Riverside county school districts to make the change.

The at-large election process makes it difficult for an ethnic minority to be elected because it requires the candidate to secure votes from the city as a whole. By switching to trustee area elections, the board will strengthen the minority vote and give minority candidates a better opportunity to be elected. Currently, four out of the five Perris trustees reside in Menifee, and all of them are Caucasian.

During the recent meeting, demographer Peter Morrison discussed with the board the preliminary steps they must take in order to smoothly segue the public into trustee area elections. This new way of electing leaders will require the district be sectioned off into equal portions based on population, and citizens will vote for a candidate within their area to represent them.

According to a 2010 census, the district has a population of 159,462. After areas are set, each trustee would represent around 31,892 citizens. Morrison demonstrated this division by locating Perris’s four feeder districts – Perris, Nuview Union, Romoland, and Menifee Union – on a map. Based off of population, Perris and Menifee will be split into two trustee areas, while Romoland and Nuevo will be combined as one.

Morrison also used maps to show communities of interest, the voting age population based on ethnicity, and the number of registered voters by Spanish and non-Spanish surname within the district. According to the census, the majority of the population is made up of Hispanics, but only a little more than 27 percent of Hispanics are registered voters.

Despite the change to trustee area elections, the voice of minorities may remain silent if they do not show up to vote. During a telephone conversation prior to the meeting, Greenberg reinforced that the switch “doesn’t guarantee minority representation, but it does guarantee minorities an opportunity to be elected as a trustee.”

It is estimated that the process to change the Perris district election system will take six months. The board would like to be ready in September to present information to the public, and they set their sights on December as being the end of this transition.

During the upcoming months the district will be posting redistricting material and meeting schedules on the district website at Meetings will be held to solicit public comment and reveal several different redistricting plans to choose from.

“We as a board have always tried to value input,” said board member Eric Kroencke.