Small LEAs get flexibility on filling board seats

Small LEAs get flexibility on filling board seats

(Calif.) Small school districts across the state can more easily reduce the number of board trustees they must have under legislation signed into law this month by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The new education statute allows standing county oversight committees to decrease membership of a school board from five to three if a district’s average daily attendance the prior year was less than 300.

“We asked our representative to look into this because we found that our smaller districts were having a hard time finding board members,” said Jim Cerreta, deputy superintendent of business services at the Sonoma County Office of Education, where nearly one-third of the districts under its oversight meet the law’s size requirement.

According to a staff analysis of the legislation, authored by Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, the ability for board membership to expand or contract in proportion to enrollment “becomes increasingly important in rural and very small districts, which may have a difficult time finding five community members able to serve.”

Compounding the problem of not being able to recruit trustees is the fact that existing law requires an election to fill vacant seats if no one is appointed – a costly endeavor for these tiny districts.

Current law gives already-established county committees on school district organization the authority to increase a five-member board to seven or decrease a seven-seat board to five.

These 11-member committees – roughly half of each is comprised of county board of education members – may also increase three-member school boards to five if a district’s average daily attendance increases but there is no authority in current law to reduce the board size from five to three if student numbers drop.

District governing boards are made up of either three, five or seven members, depending upon district size, and a quorum is required in order for trustees to meet and conduct business. A five-seat school board, for example, would need three of its members present for a meeting to be legal and valid.

Board members must live within the boundaries of the school district, which proves problematic for rural or sparsely populated areas.

Of the 40 districts located in Sonoma County, said Cerreta, 14 fall below the 300 ADA threshold.

Statewide, there are roughly 225 school districts with 300 ADA or less but the number fluctuates slightly year to year.

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