Broken TRUSD

Four years after its formation, the Twin Rivers Unified School District is one unhappy marriage. The system was formed by a vote of area residents in 2007, bringing together the diverse communities of the Rio Linda, North Sacramento, and Del Paso Heights elementary-school districts along with Grant Union High School.

But a report last week by the Sacramento County grand jury found the district’s board of trustees is plagued by “animosity and negativity.”

The wide-ranging report also: found that the school curriculum is “fragmented at best”; questioned the district’s pursuit of seemingly petty, but expensive lawsuits against former Grant employees; raised concerns that the district is only encouraging that high-achieving students apply to a local charter school; suggested the district look for a new superintendent; and recommended ditching the current election system for choosing its leadership.

And the way it elects its leaders is definitely messed up. So some community activists are trying to fix it. “I believe the only way that culture of conflict is going to change is to give the local communities more control over their representation,” says Howard Lawrence, who worked for the unification back in 2007.

Back then there was disagreement about whether district trustees should be elected at large, with everybody in the school district voting for all the members of the board, or by area, with particular communities selecting their own reps.

In an attempt to please, or to displease, everybody, the district ended up with a weird hybrid election system where members are elected at large, to represent particular areas.

The end result, says Lawrence, is a distorted system where some neighborhoods run roughshod over others.

He did an analysis of the 2007 elections and found that the candidate who got the most votes in Area 6, representing North Sacramento, actually lost the election. Her opponent got fewer votes in Area 6, but got way more votes in the Rio Linda and Elverta areas—even though those aren’t the areas he represents.

“If you set up a system where certain pockets dominate the election, that’s not effective,” said Derrell Roberts, director of the Roberts Family Development Center.

Most of the top administrators, along with the superintendent, are all from the old Rio Linda district. And the superintendent, Frank Porter, has a reputation for, in the grand jury’s words, “a strong dislike for everything in and about the Grant district.”

The grand jury also reports that it heard from the Hmong and Latino communities that the TRUSD board doesn’t listen to their concerns. And the jury heard testimony about perceived bias against African-American staff.

Roberts has begun circulating a petition to establish true area elections in the school district. Folks in North Sac would be able to pick a North Sac rep, folks in Rio Linda could elect their own board member, and so on.

The TRUSD school board may not be much interested in any reform that would threaten their re-election chances. Consider the board’s bizarre decision last year to give themselves an extra couple years in office. (See “Fuzzy math at Twin Rivers,” by Cosmo Garvin, SN&R Bites, March 11.)

But if Roberts and his allies gather 500 signatures, the board of the Sacramento County Office of Education will consider putting another question on the 2012 ballot to change the system.

The grand jury also recommends going to area elections, saying it would be more “equitable.” Sounds like a start. Because right now, there’s an obvious lack of unity in Twin Rivers Unified.