San Juan School Board expresses concerns about redistricting of the board

The third iteration of a redistricting map for the San Juan School Board apparently placed three current board members in the same district, creating an unusual scenario for the board for the next few years.

At their latest meeting, the school board directed San Juan School Superintendent Ron Nielson to help inform the public about the map. Nielson sent an informational video to school district parents on the evening of Tuesday, January 25. The video can be viewed at the link below:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1SYOBLO4ua5L8fOJoAxMVQKkx7Jh68eKf/view?f...

Looking closely at the maps Nielson said it appears the Navajo Nation Eastland Adjustment map places school board members Steve Black, Lucille Cody, and Lori Maughan all into District Four.

At the January 19 school board meeting, Nielson explained the newly approved map places three board members in a single district and how that impacts the community

After a district staff review of the state code, Nielson said all school board members are guaranteed the opportunity to complete the term for which the member was elected. However, all three sitting board members will not be able to run for reelection by the voters in their current districts.

The four year term of board member Lucille Cody expires in December 2022, while the terms of board members Lori Maughan and Steve Black expire in December 2024.

Cody would apparently not be eligible to run for the open seat in her district this November, since the two other board members already live in the district. She could run again when the position opens again in 2024.

Nielson explains that at the end of 2022, the representation of District Four would be decided by a game of chance, likely a coin flip, between Maughan and Black. The winner of the toss would represent District Four through 2024, while the loser would remain on the board as an at-large member through 2024.

Because all three board members are in the same district, and there are no representatives for the districts previously represented by Maughan and Black, an election would likely be held this fall for Districts One and Three.

Following the once-a-decade 2020 Census, the San Juan County Commission is responsible for redistricting their commission voting districts, as well as the San Juan County School Board voting districts.

At their final meeting of 2021, the commission approved two voting district maps. The map approved for the commission districts was created by Bill Cooper, a redistricting expert hired by the county.

The map approved for the school board district was drawn and recommended by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

While the school board map perfectly balanced the county population across the five districts, it also put residents of the Eastland and Ucolo area in District Four, which is anchored in the southeast portion of the county and mostly represented by voters from the Montezuma Creek and Aneth areas.

The commission revisited the issue at the January 4, 2022 meeting and changed the map to include portions of Eastland in District One, instead of in District Four. That put these voters in a district in the northern county / Monticello area, where their children attend school.

While the change disrupted the perfect balance of voters per district, District Four was still just within the allowable five percent deviation.

Following the meeting on January 4, the Navajo Nation sent a resolution to San Juan County expressing opposition to the amended map.

So, at their January 18 meeting, the commission once again switched their vote to approve a new "Eastland Adjustment" map, which is closer to the original map presented by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

The ordinance and map suggested by the Navajo Nation made adjustments to keep Eastland in District One, while also placing some areas near Monticello and Blanding into District Four.

Under the revised map, District One includes the Monticello, La Sal, and Eastland areas. District Three includes the Bluff, Mexican Hat, and White Mesa areas, and small areas near Blanding and Montezuma Creek.

The result would be a two-year window from 2022 to 2024 where there are six members of the board including Maughan, Black, Merri Shumway, Nelson Yellowman, as well as the newly elected representatives from northern District One and south-central District Three.

Maughan and Black were both elected to represent their districts in the past three elections, in 2016, 2018, and 2020. The elections are generally for four-year terms but have been disrupted because of prior redistricting efforts.

Cody was elected to a four-year term in 2018.

Four members of the board expressed concerns about the possible impacts of the Eastland Adjustment map.

Shumway said If people do not live near the students and parents that they represent, the board will not be as effective.

Yellowman said, Hypothetically, if the issue was happening in his district, there would be pushback from his community.

Board member Lucille Cody, who joined the meeting remotely, did not offer comments at the meeting.

Nielson suggested the district make plans to communicate to the communities in the school district about what the approved map may mean.

During action items, the board passed a motion directing Nielson to write a letter to the county commission asking them to revisit the map once again.

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