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Newport-Mesa trustee area map OK’d by O.C. committee and moves on to state

Newport-Mesa trustee area map OK’d by O.C. committee and moves on to state
The Orange County Committee on School District Organization voted Wednesday to approve the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s proposed trustee area Map G, pictured, which is designed to make the zones more equal in population. (File Illustration)

The Orange County Committee on School District Organization voted Wednesday to approve the Newport-Mesa Unified School District's proposed trustee area Map G, which is designed to make the zones more equal in population.

The boundary adjustments are part of the district's decision to change its election system so trustees will be chosen by voters in the zones they live in instead of by voters throughout the district.

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The district agreed in March to change the system as part of a settlement of a legal complaint alleging that the at-large voting system violates the California Voting Rights Act by preventing Latino residents from electing candidates of their choice.

School attendance boundaries will not be affected.

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The State Board of Education will consider the district's request to waive an election to make the changes official. The district hopes to put the new voting system in place by the next school board election in November.

The county committee voted 9-1 in favor of the trustee area map, with member Kathryn Moffat dissenting after hearing speakers' concerns about a lack of community input.

Newport-Mesa Deputy Supt. Russell Lee-Sung said that because of extensive population growth on the district's east side, trustees needed to adjust all seven areas to balance the populations.

The areas have not been altered since the school district formed about 50 years ago.

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Lee-Sung also said trustees needed to ensure the continuation of at least one minority-majority trustee area to comply with the California Voting Rights Act.

The district held multiple informational meetings last year on the west and east sides to explain the need to redraw the trustee area boundaries. Trustees unanimously approved Map G in October.

In Map G, trustee Area 7 has a slightly lower population of Latinos but a higher percentage of minorities, at 58.9%, while in an alternative Map B, it would have a slightly higher Latino population but a lower minority percentage, 54.9%.

During Wednesday's hearing, seven community members who preferred Map B urged the committee to vote against the district's proposal, contending that Map G was created with minimal input, specifically from Costa Mesa's Westside, which is predominantly Latino. They argued that the district didn't make sufficient effort to get input from Latinos and that turnout at the community meetings was low.

Westside resident Ashley Anderson said her area hasn't had a trustee reflecting its ideals or values. In past meetings, Anderson had said the Westside contains many Title I schools (those with large low-income student populations eligible to receive supplemental federal money) that she feels have been "disenfranchised for decades."

Resident Wendy Leece, a former Costa Mesa City Council member and former Newport-Mesa trustee representing Area 7, repeated a contention raised last year that the district preferred Map G because Map B would place trustees Judy Franco and Karen Yelsey in Area 5, resulting in the possibility of them running against each other in a future election.

Franco, who has been on the board for 37 years, announced in October that she would not run for reelection in 2018.

Committee ​Vice Chairwoman Karin Freeman said it was "heartbreaking" to hear the controversy after going through the same process several times with other school districts.

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Freeman added that it wasn't unusual to have low turnout at informational meetings once people understood attendance boundaries wouldn't be affected.

Chairwoman Sheila Benecke agreed and commended the district's outreach efforts.

"You can invite them but you can't force them to go," Benecke said.

Twitter: @vegapriscella

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