Sulphur Springs School District officials agreed Wednesday to settle a lawsuit alleging a California Voting Rights Act violation with a remedy that includes districts, officials said after an hourlong closed session discussion during their governing board meeting.
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The Santa Clarita Valley school district has agreeed to be divided into five districts, officials said Wednesday.
“We have voted to reach an agreement to settle this suit,” said Kerry Clegg, board president for the Sulphur Springs School District, “for the best interests of our students and the fiscal health of our district.”
The vote was 5-0 to approve a no-fault settlement, he said.
“The district will have control over the demographer (who will decide the districts),” Klegg said, adding more details would be available in a statement from the district Thursday.
A source close to the lawsuit said a small list of approved demographers was offered to the district from the plaintiff’s attorneys.
Specific districts were not a part of the agreement reached, officials said.
Superintendent Robert Nolet said district staff were targeting the 2015 election cycle for the first one when changes would become effective.
“We’re still in the middle of the process,” Clegg added. The details were still being determined, Nolet said. Changing the month and year of the election was not part of the settlement.
Representatives from the Sulphur Springs School District met with the attorneys suing the Santa Clarita Valley school district over the alleged violations in February, according to court records.
The Feb. 18 meeting is when the terms of the deal were negotiated.
The closed session vote comes one day after the city of Santa Clarita made the move to settle a similar lawsuit, forgoing a legal fight that could have costs the city, “millions and millions of dollars or essentially the same result,” according to Santa Clarita City Councilman TimBen Boydston on Tuesday.
Related article: Santa Clarita Votes To Settle California Voting Rights Act Lawsuit
The city agreed to two basic changes in that deal: Santa Clarita ballots are set to change to cumulative voting, and the election will be moved from April 8 to the first Tuesday in November of the following even-numbered year.
One of the plaintiffs in that case, Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser, is the sole plaintiff in this lawsuit, and is represented by the same attorneys.
When asked about the Feb. 18 negotiation, attorney Kevin Shenkman, who’s representing two plaintiffs in three lawsuits against local government agencies, praised attorneys from Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, the Sulphur Springs School District counsel for the case.
“They really put the interests of he school district and its students first,” Shenkman said. “This resolution, and the settlement with the city of Santa Clarita, proves that there in an amicable and cost-effective way to resolve voting rights cases — a lesson that Palmdale has still failed to learn.”
Klegg noted the fact that no California Voting Rights Act lawsuit had been successfully defended, in his statement out of closed session, regarding the decision to settle.
The two plaintiffs in the city’s case, Sanchez-Fraser and Jim Soliz, also have an a pending lawsuit against the Santa Clarita Community College District.
Palmdale city officials are currently appealing a loss in a similar suit with Shenkman & Hughes. The judge decided Palmdale should have districts as a remedy.
Shenkman filed his legal bills, according to court documents due within 60 days of an initial judgement, which are approximately $5 million split between three firms.
From an earlier article:
Santa Clarita Community College District officials were hit with a similar lawsuit as the city and the SSSD around June 20.
The Sulphur Springs School District lawsuit alleges the district comprises a portion of the city of Santa Clarita with 56,256 residents, and 30.6 percent of the eligible voters in that district are Latino.
“The Latino population located within the SSSD is geographically concentrated, particularly in the pockets of the Newhall and Canyon Country neighborhoods,” according to the lawsuit.
Shenkman said his firm is representing the plaintiffs in all three suits and his firm is working with R. Rex Parris’ firm on the matters.
No attempts at mediation have been scheduled with the Santa Clarita Community College District, according to court records.
Related article: College Of The Canyons Trustees Will Fight Civil Rights Claim
Bruce Fortine, a trustee for the College of the Canyons governing board, called the lawsuit “unfortunate,” and said while districting may make sense in some regions, it wouldn’t benefit the greater good for the Santa Clarita Valley.
Sanchez-Fraser, who’s vice president of the Santa Clarita Valley Democratic Club, said her involvement in activism after retiring from the nursing industry spurred her motivation for the lawsuit.
“The (SCV Democratic Club) is a small club, but it’s very much into education of the people here, so it filled a little niche that I needed,” said Sanchez-Fraser, who’s lived in the Santa Clarita Valley for almost 40 years. “And I thought, ‘You know, it’s true, we don’t have any representation for the Latinos, Mexicanos in our city, and they’re all over the place. We’re very visible but invisible.”
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Source: Santa Clarita News