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Redrawn MUSD trustee map an expensive deal

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POSTED October 13, 2013 11:39 p.m.

The newly drawn Manteca Unified trustee map which brings to seven – up from the current five – areas represented by the elected members of the Board of Trustees was approved Tuesday by a majority vote of 4-3.

Now, the $64 question is whether registered voters living in the school district area will have their say in the June or the November 2014 elections if they approve of the new map.

Scenario D, which is how the newly drawn map is called, mainly affects two of the seven board members – Deborah Romero and board president Don Scholl who would be representing the new trustee areas 6 and 7. Under the current five-trustee map, the populous area 5 in central Manteca is represented by three of the seven trustees – Romero, Scholl and Evelyn Moore. Additionally, the board also approved the proposed change in the election process – with voters choosing only the candidate who will represent them in the area where they reside instead of casting their votes on all the district’s trustee areas.

The next step after the Scenario D map was approved by the board at the Tuesday meeting would have been the submission of a request to the county committee on school district organization asking that the election process requirement to those changes be waived. Those requirements are under the provisions of Education Code Sections 5019, 5020, 5021, and 5030.

While the waiver would save Manteca Unified an estimated $75,000 to $100,000 plus whatever attorneys’ costs the district will incur which would cover education materials relative to what the election is all about, the idea of bypassing the election process did not sit well with district residents Dale Fritchen of Weston Ranch and Bruce Lownsbery of Manteca.

“Let the voters decide their fates,” said Fritchen, a former Manteca Unified trustee and former Stockton City Council member. “They didn’t elect you to waive their opportunity to vote” for the candidate that they want to represent them on the board.

Lownsberry agreed, saying, “This is something that should come before the voters. We didn’t elect you to bypass the voters (but) to bring to us options.”

By “carving these boundaries around your seats, voters should have a problem with that,” he added.

Karen Pearsall of Manteca also cautioned that if the redrawn map issue goes before the voters, “make sure the voters understand” what this is all about and that they are casting “an educated vote.”

“I can see both sides of the coin,” she told the board, but “you’ll have to do a lot of educating” the public.

Addressing the other side of the coin, and responding to the comments of Fritchen and Lownsberry about the wisdom of holding an election and the drawing of the new map, Trustee Romero said, “we didn’t have input on how they (the trustee areas) were carved out.”

She added, “We were elected to represent you, to save money for our kids.”

The rationale given to the request for an election waiver is to save the district money that could best be used for the students.

The motion put forth before the board on the waiver died in motion, which means there was no majority vote.

Before casting his yes vote in favor of a waiver, board president Scholl, the last one to cast a vote, said he didn’t “want to deprive the public input” into the matter but that “the risk is extremely high if we don’t move forward on this,” while referring to exposing the district to potentially expensive lawsuits.

Redrawing the trustee map and holding trustee elections by trustee area is also a means to protect the district from being sued by advocacy and political groups.

The California Voting Rights Act of 2001, in a nutshell, will make it easier for minority groups to prove that their votes are being “diluted” in at-large elections, and to sue local governments and agencies such as school boards like MUSD. In earlier board meeting discussions on this subject, Messer said there are other places where school districts are already voting by area. Stockton Unified School District is one of them, and Lincoln Unified in Stockton is also moving into voting by district area. Ripon Unified is also currently exploring this idea, he said.

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