South San Francisco residents should take advantage of the chance to shape their participation in local governance by crafting a map determining boundaries of the districts school board members will represent, said a top education official.

The South San Francisco Unified School District is seeking community input on the transition to by-district elections, and residents are encouraged to craft their own electoral maps, said school board President John Baker.

The maps contributed by residents will be considered by officials charged with selecting a final configuration of wards where trustees must live to run for election to the school district.

Baker framed the call for community submissions as a chance for those who follow the school district to take action and shape the future of local democracy.

“All our actions as trustees are based on our own experience in the community. If you feel like our actions have not been reflecting your community, this is your opportunity to make sure they do,” he said.

A demographer hired by the district has already submitted two maps and community maps will be collected throughout the month, as officials are hopeful to start winnowing down proposals in the near future, with an eye on making a decision this fall. Ultimately, Baker said the selected map will be used during the November 2020 election.

School officials last year formally adopted the transition from at-large elections, by which top vote getters throughout the city win a seat on the board, to by-district elections.

Agencies along the Peninsula have also adopted similar changes recently, and some have been compelled by the threat of legal action. The South San Francisco City Council approved moving to district elections after a social justice group threatened a lawsuit, and the Half Moon Bay City Council, Redwood City Elementary and Sequoia Union High school boards and San Mateo County Board of Supervisors approved the adoption under those circumstances as well. The school district in South San Francisco did not receive a legal threat, and sought to avoid any potential litigation by voluntarily adopting the transition.

Proponents of the by-district election system claim the format ensures all communities are represented on a board and protects against the threat of subjugating disadvantaged groups.

Residents interested in creating their own map can do so on a computer by visiting a district website designed to help navigate the process, or by filling out paper maps available at the district office or local libraries.

Baker said he is hopeful expanding the access to paper maps with hopes of capturing the contribution of those who may not be computer literate could help the district track down a wider variety of perspectives.

“We are hoping the more traditional means of putting together maps will get interest,” he said.

He balanced that perspective by noting though the community has not participated much in the process so far, which he hopes will turn around by simplifying the format for crafting maps.

“To be honest, we’ve seen little interest but I think part of that is because the process was complicated,” he said.

Ultimately, Baker said would like the district to move the process ahead effectively, with an eye on selecting a map which will give potential candidates in the identified districts adequate time to ramp up their campaigns.

“We’ve still got some time but still want to make sure that people have time to know what district they are in and start building interest in those neighborhoods,” he said.

Visit ssfusd.org/2020redistrict for more information about the map creation process as well as where to find paper maps.

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