Fremont High School parking and mural
Fremont Union High School District will switch from at-large trustee elections to area-based elections come November. Photo by B. Sakura Cannestra.

The Fremont Union High School District will change the way future trustees are elected come November.

The district, which enrolls students from Cupertino, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Saratoga and Santa Clara, is switching from at-large elections — where residents can vote for any candidate — to electing area-based board members. This means the school district will split into five areas balanced by census data, where voters elect a trustee within their area. The goal is to increase representation in areas that haven’t had a trustee seat in years.

The change will affect the election of two trustee seats this November: Board President Jeff Moe and Trustee Rod Sinks, who reside in Cupertino and will term out this year. The district is working with the Community Trustee Area Districting Committee to finalize the area maps by April. The maps will not necessarily be divided by city, but by population, meaning some trustee areas could fall in two cities.

Some community members who oppose the change said at the Jan. 30 board meeting that if each board member represents a specific area, there will be less collaboration as they prioritize their own neighborhoods. They also said it felt rushed and there is not enough voter dilution to warrant the change.

“My concern is that the trustee areas (are) actually dividing our community,” Shuping Liu, a community member, said at the board meeting. “If we move to the trustee areas, each board member or trustee will only represent his own narrow trustee area.”

The decision also raised community concerns about the potential election of a North Sunnyvale trustee who could try to reopen Sunnyvale High School, which closed in 1981. The school district cannot support opening a sixth school, according to the district. The change spurred worries that a school with lower enrollment rates, such as Lynbrook High School in San Jose or Monta Vista High School in Cupertino would close.

District spokesperson Rachel Zlotziver said despite the concerns, the district has no plans to close a school or reopen a shuttered one.

There are five schools in the district that serve more than 9,000 students, according the district’s website.

North Sunnyvale resident Peggy Shen Brewster, founder of the community organization Sunnyvale Equity in Education and whose children will attend high school in the district, said her neighborhood hasn’t had a voice in board decisions.

“The FUHSD mission statement cites they believe in excellence and equity,” she told San José Spotlight. “However, that doesn’t seem to apply to the whole district currently.”

The switch comes at a time when Sunnyvale is growing and Moffett Park is scheduled to add more than 20,000 homes.

Moe said he thinks trustee areas-based elections will lower the barrier to entry for candidates because they will be able to spend less money campaigning in a smaller area. He is a proponent of the change, but said the board has continually tried to take all residents’ needs into consideration regardless of where the trustees live.

“All of us have always emphasized that we don’t represent just one area or one school, we represent the whole area,” Moe told San José Spotlight.

The district’s trustees passed the change last March in a unanimous vote, citing the California Voting Rights Act — a bill claiming at-large elections dilute some marginalized communities’ votes. The district sent mailers to each resident explaining the decision last August.

Shen Brewster said she hopes the next trustee will address her neighborhood’s needs, including the need for a Spanish-speaking representative.

“Our needs are very different here, especially when we look at the demographics and the range in socioeconomic status of our students,” she said.

The Community Trustee Area Districting Committee’s will meet Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. in person and the board of trustees meets Feb. 27 at 6:15 p.m. in person and on Zoom to discuss the area maps.

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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