County board of education members must use a new election map they didn’t create under a new ruling from an Orange County Superior Court judge issued last week.
The decision wraps up a long running fight over what the county board of education, and by extension the charter school community in Orange County could look like in the next decade.
Instead of using their own map, the board will have to use one created by the Orange County Committee on School District Organization, a group made up of appointees from different school districts throughout the county who are required to review new maps.
The issue was originally set to be discussed more in May, but on Tuesday, OC Superior Court Judge Gregory H. Lewis announced he was throwing out the board members’ lawsuit because they failed to produce a law showing how they could override the commission.
Mari Barke, president of the board of education, said while this ruling ends the debate for districts in the 2022 election, they weren’t done pursuing the case in a phone call with Voice of OC Friday morning.
“At least I know what my district is now,” Barke said. “It’s the end for this election, but it’s by no means the end. We’ll have a full trial on it … we don’t have a (court) date at the moment, but this is not the final decision.”
The fight started after Orange County Board of Education members submitted their new district map following the 2020 census to the committee.
The committee openly rejected the board members’ map, drawing up and approving one of their own without the board’s input over the protests of public commenters, which they sent to the county Registrar of Voters, the chief election administrator.
The board sued the committee, arguing their only job was to review the maps, but they had no power to create and submit their own ideas.
The committee cited the state’s Education Code 1002 that says “the county committee shall adjust the boundaries of any or all of the trustee areas of the county board of education as necessary,” following a census.
Board members argued that because they were elected to their seats under the county’s charter rules, they had the right to establish their own maps regardless of what the committee did and that the other rules the committee cited were for general law counties.
The OC Board of Supervisors also threw their support behind the education board, issuing a resolution at their Feb. 1 meeting that said as the head of the county they wanted the board of education to make the final call.
In his ruling, Lewis said the state Education code “clearly selected,” the commission as the final arbiter of the board’s election maps, and that the powers of the county did not extend to overruling the commission.
To back up his decision, Lewis cited a portion of the state Constitution that outlined the powers a county charter has, including setting the powers of county officers and approving their own election maps, but pointed out how it didn’t once mention the supervisors had any control over the board of education’s district maps.
“None of the provisions … apply to overriding the mandate of Ed. Code 1002 to designate the Committee to revise the map based on the census,” Lewis wrote. “The limited home rule of a charter county does not authorize the board of education’s position.”
County Supervisor Don Wagner, who fought hard for the board of education when the supervisors’ passed their resolution supporting the case, said while he had not reviewed the court filing, he found it “disappointing.”
“I think we were pretty clear and within our rights to do what we did,” Wagner said in a Friday morning phone call.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.