Lawsuit on SBISD Elections
Has a lawsuit been filed against the school district regarding regarding the current system for electing school board members?
Yes, a former candidate (the “Plaintiff”) for the SBISD school board filed a lawsuit in June alleging that SBISD’s system of at-large elections violates the Federal Voting Rights Act.
What does the lawsuit seek to achieve?
The Plaintiff seeks to force the District to change its at-large system of electing trustees to a single-member district system.
What is the difference between an at-large system and a single-member district system of electing trustees?
Under an at-large system, all eligible voters of the community vote for all trustees. An at-large system is similar to how Texans vote for candidates in the U.S. Senate where all voters elect both Senate positions.
Under a single-member district system, the district is divided into geographic subunits (i.e., single-member districts). Only voters who reside within a single-member district may vote for the candidates running for election for that single-member district. A single-member district is similar to how Texans vote for candidates in the U.S. House of Representatives where voters only vote for the person running for their congressional district, not other congressional districts in Texas.
How has the school district responded to the lawsuit?
In August, the SBISD school board filed an Answer to Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint. The district will keep the community informed of developments regarding this lawsuit.
Has there been any change to the District’s current election system for members of the school board?
No. There has been no decision to change the District’s current system of at-large elections.
What are the next steps in the lawsuit?
The next step in the lawsuit is a scheduling conference which will take place in November 2021. At that time the parties anticipate the Court will enter deadlines governing the case, including trial dates.
What is the board’s official position regarding Elizondo v. SBISD?
As reflected in SBISD’s filed Answer to Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint, SBISD takes the position that elections for school board trustees in Texas are by default, an at-large system, which is the most popular form of electing trustees among Texas school districts by a significant majority. SBISD rejects Plaintiff’s argument that all school board elections in SBISD are marked by a pattern of racially-polarized voting. SBISD maintains that it has not enacted any barriers to voting. Finally, SBISD believes there are sound, non-race-based policy reasons for maintaining an at-large voting system.
What is a Motion to Intervene?
A Motion to Intervene is filed when someone who is not a party to the lawsuit wants to become a party to a lawsuit. In early September, a member of the community filed such a motion with the court.
Has the judge made a ruling on the Motion to Intervene?
Yes. United States District Judge Kenneth Hoyt has denied the motion because the applicant “has not shown that the defendants will fail to adequately represent her interests.” Click to read the entire Order on the Applicant’s Motion to Intervene.
What is the board’s official position regarding a community member’s Motion to Intervene in Elizondo v. SBISD?
As reflected in SBISD’s Response to Motion to Intervene, SBISD takes the position that the applicant intervener and SBISD seek the same relief and have the same ultimate objective: the defense of the District’s current at-large system. As a result, SBISD does not need any additional parties to this lawsuit as that may potentially delay the process and increase costs.
Has the school district’s legal counsel recommended a change to the District’s election system?
No. SBISD’s legal counsel, attorneys from Thompson & Horton LLP, have not recommended or advocated for a change to the current SBISD election system. After listening to community concerns about its current election system, the SBISD school board requested that Thompson & Horton attorneys make a presentation to help board members and the public understand the various options that school districts have in electing their trustees. The January 2020 presentation included data that showed that SBISD’s current system of at-large elections is similar to the majority of school board systems in Texas.
How will this case be decided?
Federal Voting Rights Act lawsuits are heard in federal court and will be decided by a federal judge assigned to this case. There is no jury. Cases like this often rely heavily on voting patterns and demographic information as well as the legal merits of the case rather than testimony by individuals.
How is the data and demographic information gathered?
Each side in this lawsuit will have voting data and demographics experts to present information to the court. Information will largely come from the latest United States Census. SBISD has retained the leading expert in the state of Texas on voting data to represent us.
How soon can the community expect updates on this lawsuit?
Resolving legal matters takes time. SBISD will provide updates here as we move through the process. From time to time, the Board of Trustees may receive updates from attorneys on the progress of the case. As they do in all legal matters, the board will hear these updates in closed session. The community can watch board agendas to look for these updates. Please note that not all updates on legal matters noted on the agenda will pertain to this lawsuit as there may be other legal matters to discuss.
What should the community do now?
It is imperative as we move forward that our community continue to behave as a community. This includes following our core values and the rules for civil public discourse.
The Board of Trustees recommends following this space for reliable information rather than listening to rumors to avoid misinformation.
How can the community voice concerns?
Community members are always able to e-mail the Board of Trustees with any concerns. Community members may also speak on topics that interest them at Regular Board Meetings. We ask that comment at Special Meetings and Workshop Meetings be focused solely on agenda items so the important business of the district can continue in a timely manner. Please note that the board will not be discussing this case outside of public meetings as befits the seriousness of this matter and in order to preserve strategy.
Who is Thompson & Horton LLP?
Thompson & Horton LLP has represented SBISD since 2005 and has assisted the school district in navigating a wide range of legal issues, such as school finance reform and complex litigation. Thompson & Horton attorney Lisa McBride is a recognized expert on the Federal Voting Rights Act with over 21 years of experience. She is not an advocate for any particular voting system. Chris Gilbert is a litigation partner with over 28 years of experience, who has represented Spring Branch ISD in at least eight lawsuits since 2009, as well as several complicated investigations by the Office of Civil Rights. Our experience with Ms. McBride, Mr. Gilbert, and their colleagues at the firm is that they provide factual information and legal analysis to help Trustees make informed decisions. Given the proven track record of the firm, the SBISD school board has full confidence in Thompson & Horton and their advice and guidance on this matter.
Is the Spring Branch Education Foundation (SBEF) a party to the lawsuit?
The Spring Branch Education Foundation (SBEF) is a 501 (c)(3) non profit committed to supporting students and educators in Spring Branch ISD. It is NOT a party in the lawsuit.
Over the past two decades, SBEF has provided seed money for the district’s technology program, the Altharetta Yeargin Art Museum and the SpringBoard Mentoring and Good Neighbor programs, among others. It funds district and campus grants, as well as scholarships for SBISD students. And it has created the Fund for the Future Endowment which funds programs for our students in perpetuity.
SBEF is nationally recognized for managing funds to enhance student learning. In 2016, Caruthers Institute ranked SBEF 42nd in the nation among 188 K-12 education foundations and in the top 10 of its division of foundations with $1 million to $1,999,999 in revenues. Caruthers Institute, which conducts the study, considers SBEF a wise investment.
The Foundation has awarded more than $13 million to SBISD since its inception. It has approximately 75 directors who serve three-year terms and provide money for the staffing of the foundation. You can learn more about SBEF here.
Have the parties filed a case management plan with the court?
Yes. On October 15, 2021, attorneys for both sides of the lawsuit filed what is known as a Joint Case Management Plan. This document tells the Court what the parties think various deadlines in the case should be. Note that Court has no obligation to use deadlines as outlined in this document, and the Court will ultimately decide the deadlines that will be used in the case. You can read the plan here.
What is the most recent update?
On December 3, 2021, Thompson & Horton informed the Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees of their desire to withdraw as counsel in Elizondo v. SBISD. Thompson & Horton believes this request is in the district’s best interests. The firm also believes the issues surrounding this lawsuit are very important and should be the focus of the community rather than who is legal counsel. SBISD is grateful to Thompson & Horton for their legal representation and their integrity in ensuring SBISD’s interests are best represented.
Last updated 12/6/2021