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Maps information is inadequate for proposed Newport-Mesa trustee areas, parents say at first hearing

A Newport-Mesa Unified School District committee prefers these proposed adjusted trustee area boundaries, which are designed to make the areas’ populations more uniform.
(Courtesy of Newport-Mesa Unified School)

What they consider a lack of accessible information explaining three proposed boundary maps for Newport-Mesa Unified School District trustee areas was a main concern voiced by parents at Rea Elementary School during a public hearing Wednesday night.

About a dozen parents attended the hearing at the Costa Mesa campus to hear Bruce Terry, director of client support for DecisionInsite, an Irvine-based demographic consultant, discuss and answer questions about the three maps proposed for redrawing the boundaries of the seven trustee areas.

Fred Navarro, Newport-Mesa superintendent; Spencer Covert, legal counsel for the school district; and Ashley Anderson and Charlene Ashendorf, members of a district committee that helped the demographic consultant select the map options, also attended.

It was the first of four public hearings planned on the topic. The second will be held from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the lecture hall at Corona del Mar High School, 2101 Eastbluff Drive.

As the district moves to electing trustees by zones instead of the district at large, the first step is realigning the boundaries of the trustee areas to give them populations of about 27,000 each, Navarro said.

Data presented to the board last year indicated some trustee areas had as many as 46,000 residents while others had around 16,000. The areas haven’t been altered since the school district formed 50 years ago, though the populations in each area have changed.

The realignment of trustee areas would not affect school attendance boundaries.

These are the existing boundaries of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s seven trustee areas.
(Courtesy of Newport-Mesa Unified School)

In creating the three new maps, six guidelines were followed, Terry said:

•Areas should contain a nearly equal number of residents based on population estimates.

•Areas will be drawn to comply with the Federal Voting Rights Act, based on estimates of people eligible to vote.

•Areas should be compact and contiguous.

•Areas should consider communities of interest.

•Areas should consider man-made and natural geographic features.

•Areas may reflect other local considerations, such as school attendance and city boundaries.

Based on those guidelines, Terry said, Map B is preferred by the seven-member district committee because it aligns with city boundaries where possible and provides a clean look overall.

During the nearly hour-and-a-half hearing, many residents said they were frustrated with a lack of detailed map information available to the public before the meeting.

Currently, the district website displays the three proposed maps, which are color-coded to show how the trustee zones would be adjusted. But parents didn’t see detailed statistics, graphs and pie charts accompanying the three maps until the meeting.

Earlier this month, the school board approved a change in its election system to voting by trustee areas instead of the district as a whole. The change is to take effect by November 2018.

The decision helped settle a lawsuit that alleged the district’s current at-large voting system disenfranchises Latino voters by keeping them from electing representatives of their choice.

In Area 7, more than half the population is Latino, unlike the six other areas. Area 7 includes five Westside Costa Mesa elementary schools, including Rea, and has a population of nearly 40,000.

Rosa Medina, a parent with two children who attend Rea Elementary, said after the meeting that she believes the district is trying to give Latinos a voice only because of the lawsuit.

“We don’t have a leader,” Medina said in Spanish, referring to Area 7. “It’s the same people on the board. There hasn’t been any change.”

Navarro said the district had already begun the process of realigning trustee zones before it was served with the lawsuit.

“We got sued anyway, despite the fact we started committee applications and ways of how we were going to do it,” Navarro said.

Parents criticized the district for relying on the four planned public meetings to gather information rather than creating an online forum where parents who can’t attend the meetings can submit comments.

Navarro said meeting notices were placed in the Daily Pilot and in La Opinion for Spanish-speakers. In addition, school principals helped distribute fliers to spread the word.

One parent from Newport Harbor High School defended the district, saying in Spanish that many parents knew about the meeting but simply didn’t show up.

Medina said she knew about the meeting because of a flier given to her children at school.

Comment cards were passed out at the end of the hearing, and parents were encouraged to note their comments and even draw their own maps for possible consideration.

After the second meeting Thursday, comment cards will be taken to the board with a recommendation, Navarro said.

Then two more public hearings will be scheduled in coming weeks before the board votes on a final map.

priscella.vega@latimes.com

Twitter: @VegaPriscella


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