In a 5-0 vote, the Carpinteria Unified School District board accepted Santa Barbara Agriculture Farm and Education Foundation’s bid of $2.25 million, to the applause of those in the audience. Discussions amongst the board about the bid were made in closed session.
The acceptance of the bid allows Sweet Wheel Farm and Flowers to stay on the property; the business has been campaigning and raising funds to do so since the district first announced its intention to sell the property earlier this year, which would have ended the farm’s lease on the property. The farm reached its $2 million fundraising goal last week, founder Leslie Person Ryan confirmed.
Person Ryan emphasized that the farm will still continue fundraising efforts, “to make infrastructure to make it a successful farm” and preserve the property from future development.
Marc Chytilo spoke on behalf of the Santa Barbara Agricultural Farm and Education Foundation prior to the board’s discussion and subsequent decision, stating that those raising money to bid on the farm have “worked very hard to help address the district’s concerns.”
“We are earnestly interested in partnership with the district to both accomplish a win-win, to get the district what it needs to complete the (Summerland) School, to fulfil your mission, and to create an asset and a benefit to Summerland,” Chytilo said.
In heated exchange, by-trustee area elections discussed
At its regular Tuesday meeting last week, the CUSD board discussed the upcoming switch to by-trustee area elections.
The board previously voted in February 2018 to make the switch to by-trustee area elections ahead of the Nov. 2022 elections; however, the board discussed on Tuesday pushing the switch to by-trustee elections to Nov. 2024, following a heated exchange with the board and district staff over why the change was being made.
Craig Price, who presented during the meeting, explained that the intended purpose of the switch to by-trustee elections is to increase minority representation and minority voting within a district.
CUSD is making the decision to switch to by-trustee elections, as explained by district staff and Daniel Phillips, a consultant of National Demographics Corporation, to avoid potential costly voting rights discrimination lawsuits that districts across California have faced.
Currently, Carpinteria City Council is also in the processing of making the switch to by-trustee elections.
The redistricting would split the map into five trustee areas, which encompasses Summerland, part of Montecito, Toro Canyon, Carpinteria and other unincorporated areas. In the by-trustee system, each seat must be filled by a member of each of the five trustee areas; currently, members on the CUSD board of trustees can come from anywhere within the district boundaries.
Per the early results of the 2020 Census, each of the school district’s five trustee areas must contain about 3,600 people. Phillips said that once the final 2020 census results have been released, his office will work on drafting the district’s final maps.
“The intent of these hearings is to educate on the process, and also to solicit input from the public and the board about criteria to use when drawing these trustee areas. After a few months have passed and we’ve gotten the official data and we’ve had time to work with our clients who have June elections, we’ll release your draft maps on Jan. 4,” Phillips said.
But board members held a heated exchange with district staff about switching to by-trustee elections, seemingly challenging their own decision to make the switch in 2018 in the first place.
Board member Jamie Diamond – who was not on the board in 2018 – questioned whether there could be three by-trustee seats and two at-large seats rather than five by-trustee seats. Phillips clarified that in order to be “legally safe” under the California Voting Rights Act, it must be a “purely by-trustee area election system.”
He added that if no one runs for a seat within a specific trustee area, the board could appoint someone to the board within that area.
“That seems more dangerous than voting,” Diamond said.
Board member Andy Sheaffer – who was on the board in 2018 – challenged the board’s 2018 decision to make the switch to by-trustee elections, questioning if there was a need to switch at all.
“Someone should be able to explain how it benefits Carpinteria,” Sheaffer said.
Superintendent Diana Rigby stated that the benefit to switching to by-trustee area elections is to avoid a potential lawsuit.
“That’s the point. The only benefit… that’s the benefit, is that we will not be as liable to a lawsuit. That’s the reason why we voted for (this),” she said.
In response, Diamond said “that’s really sad that that’s our only benefit to our town.”
Discussion on the matter will be brought back to the board, per Price.
The district welcomed 2,090 students back to its campuses last week, out of the 2,112 total enrolled, according to Superintendent Rigby.
“Each day, we are collecting the enrollment figures, and we’ll have the final numbers next time we meet,” Rigby said.