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Should Orange County’s Board of Education increase its size? State legislators take up the issue

The Orange County Board of Education could see some structural changes should legislation in Sacramento be successful.

Co-authored by Sens. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, and Dave Min, D-Irvine, the proposed bill would expand the Orange County Board of Education from five members to seven as well as shift the elections for the board seats from the March primary to the November general election.

Newman said the proposed changes to the board are “long overdue.”

“Since the last time the Orange County Department of Education was modified in 1977, the population of Orange County has more than doubled,” said Newman, who chairs the Senate’s Education Committee.

“Increasing the number of trustees on the county board will ensure a more representative and responsive board, he said, “and aligning Orange County Board of Education elections with the November balloting will improve civic participation and parental engagement in our local education decision-making processes.”

Orange County has about 3.15 million residents, as of the latest census data. Per California’s education code, county boards of education must have five or seven trustees, and of the 10 most populous counties in the state, Orange County is one of four with only five trustees.

Of the 47 California county offices of education that held elections in 2020, 42 were in November; Orange County was one of five that held its election in March.

“Every elected body is better served by having a closer and more responsive relationship with its constituents, but only if we give those constituents the assurance that they will be heard or well represented,” Newman said.

The Orange County-specific bill could result in additional costs of $70,000 annually for the Department of Education, which oversees the OCBE, according to a fiscal summary.

OCBE members receive $562.61 as compensation for attending each meeting, in addition to department-paid benefits, which can total between $9,627 to $54,638.88 annually, depending on the type of plan a member opts for and the number of dependents they have, OCDE spokesperson Ian Hanigan said.

In February, the OCBE adopted a resolution opposing the bill. It said the board believes it has “more than adequate representation of its constituents” and “no problems have been identified or brought forward to the Orange County Board of Education that would indicate otherwise.”

Longtime Trustee Ken Williams said that increasing the size of the board has “no advantages,” calling the bill “pure political manipulation.”

“There are greater costs to have two more elected trustees on the Orange County Department of Education payroll for the taxpayers,” Williams said. “Then, there is the expensive redistricting process that was well over $1 million per our recent redistricting efforts in 2021.”

Typically, redistricting costs range from $20,000 to $40,000, Hanigan said. However, due to litigation between the board and the Orange County Committee on School District Organization, Hanigan said the department incurred “unprecedented expenses” that exceeded $1 million during the 2021 redistricting process.

According to Williams, the OCBE, Min and Newman have been in contact regarding the proposed bill, but only after the bill was first introduced in January.

“This is a political effort to replace the current conservative majority with a woke liberal majority in the 2026 elections,” Williams said. “This bill is a ruse and has nothing to do with Newman’s iterated purposes. This bill adds to the state education code a single county that must change its ways of electing its county board of education.”

“This bill is pure politics by an out-of-control state legislature and legislator and a single-party state political system,” Williams said.

Newman pushed back on the allegation that the bill was proposed for “political reasons.”

“It is not my concern regarding how an election might turn out,” Newman said, “I just know that people would feel like this way is fairer and you have to live with it. You could make the counterargument that Ken Williams and the other trustees want to do this so they wouldn’t be called into question.”

Min, who is running for Congress, said moving the board’s elections to November would “harmonize” with other important races and increase voter participation.

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In this year’s March primaries, voter turnout was generally lower than in previous elections. Overall, Orange County had a 37.67% turnout of registered voters; in the 2020 primary, that figure was 50.5%.

For the OCBE races this year, 20% of registered voters cast a ballot in the Trustee Area 1 race, 33% of registered voters participated in the Trustee Area 3 race and 25% of registered voters voted in the Trustee Area 4 race.

There have been multiple iterations of this bill in the past — including in 2021, Min when introduced similar legislation that would have moved OCBE elections to November. It was rejected by the Assembly Appropriations Committee “because too many people I talked to were unaware that this is one of the only elections in Orange County that is definitively decided in the primary,” Min said.

Ideally, Newman said the proposed bill would go into effect closer to 2030 so that the redistricting process can be streamlined alongside the census.

The California School Board Association has also stated opposition to the bill, saying it “tramples on the will of local voters by legislating the addition of two additional seats on the OCBE in an effort to dilute the current makeup of a locally elected governing board.”

“This proposal enables the state to reach into communities to influence changes to a locally elected governing board, circumventing the long-standing normal process that requires a vote of the electorate to make a similar change,” the CSBA said in a bill analysis.

The bill was heard during a Senate Appropriations meeting on Monday, Apr. 29.

Williams will host a protest in opposition to the bill on Friday, May 3 outside Newman’s Fullerton office.

Source: Orange County Register

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