Two CSBA-sponsored bills that would enact important electoral reforms are on the verge of becoming law. Together, the bills increase transparency for voters, cut costs for local school board elections and prevent school funding from being diverted for election administration.
Senate Bill 1061 (Laird, D-Santa Cruz), a bill that would provide voters with additional information about the cost of special elections for school and community college boards, while simultaneously reducing the expense associated with those elections, awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature after passing the Legislature. SB 1061 would preserve money for student services that would otherwise be diverted to pay for redundant special elections.
“It’s absolutely critical that precious school resources be used in a responsible manner and one that supports student success,” said SB 1061 author Sen. John Laird. “Unfortunately, the existing law for school board special elections does the opposite — depriving schools of funds that can be used to accelerate student achievement. This bill allows districts to streamline and reduce the costs of the elections when they occur. Provisions of SB 1061, as seen in a 2022 Middletown School District special election, can help reduce costs by as much as 50 percent. These smaller school districts are more severely impacted by any unexpected hit to their budgets.”
If signed by Gov. Newsom, SB 1061 would preserve funds for school districts by making it easier to combine a special election with another state or local election and increase transparency by providing information on the cost of the election. Currently, the boards of school districts, county offices of education and community colleges have two choices when a sitting member resigns their seat before the end of the term: they can appoint a provisional member to serve the remainder of the term or hold a special election to fill the vacancy. Voters can terminate an appointment by collecting enough petition signatures to trigger a special election that must take place within 150 days of qualifying, effectively preventing districts from consolidating the special election with a regularly scheduled election.
“The cost of a special election can consume a significant proportion of a school district’s budget, money that is better spent on programs and services that strengthen schools and improve student outcomes. Yet, the threshold for triggering a special election is astonishingly low and doesn’t provide a good indication of public satisfaction with their local school board officials,” said CSBA CEO & Executive Director Vernon M. Billy. “Unfortunately, most voters are unaware of the tradeoff since they are asked to sign petitions that contain almost no useful information about the special election and its potentially negative impact on students.”
The additional election takes taxpayer funds away from the classroom to pay for election administration at a cost that can be prohibitively expensive for some school districts, depriving them of resources needed to support student success. SB 1061 would preserve funds for school districts by extending the timeframe when the special election can be consolidated with another election. The CSBA-sponsored bill is also supported by the Association of California School Administrators, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, the California Teachers Association of Loma Prieta, the Santa Clara County Office of Education and the Small School Districts Association (co-sponsor). There is no known opposition.
Assembly Bill 2584 (Berman, D-Menlo Park) would protect election integrity through four substantial election reforms. First, AB 2584 would reform the process to initiate a recall by increasing the number of signatures required for the notice of intent to recall an elected officer. Secondly, the legislation would apply the standards for accuracy and review that currently exist for candidate statements to the arguments offered by recall proponents as well as the response from the official proponents are seeking to recall. Thirdly, the bill would require that petitions state the estimated cost of the recall election. Finally, AB 2584 would allow for the consolidation of recall elections with a regularly scheduled state or local election that occurs within 180 days after the recall is qualified.
Currently, notices of intent require only 10 signatures, an insufficient number to determine the sentiment of voters in a particular jurisdiction, especially when the information included in the notice and response is not subject to the same accuracy standards as that in other election materials provided to voters. The reforms of AB 2584 will help ensure that special elections are used to reflect the popular will, not as a tool of intimidation.
“While recalls can be an important tool to hold elected officials accountable, the bar is so low to initiate a recall that it has been weaponized against elected officials at all levels of government, but especially school board members,” said bill author Assemblymember Marc Berman. “AB 2584 would ensure that the process to initiate a recall is rigorous enough to demonstrate that it is a serious effort, that voters are provided accurate and truthful information, and that we don’t waste limited public resources.”
For school board members, AB 2584 would raise the number of signatures required on the notice of intent to recall from 10 to 30 in jurisdictions with fewer than 100,000 registered voters. In jurisdictions with 100,000 or greater, the threshold would increase from 10 to 50. This change would better reflect the sentiment of voters in the jurisdiction, require petitions for the recall of a school board member to include the cost of the recall election, and allow them to be combined with the next regularly scheduled election. The Senate will soon give final consideration to the bill, before it moves to the Assembly, and later to the Governor.
“Both SB 1061 and AB 2584 would illuminate the special election process in a way that benefits taxpayers, voters and students alike,” Billy concluded.