Ocean View School District Trustees changing how they are elected

Trustees voted 3 to 2 to initiate shifting from at-large elections to ones based on trustee areas starting in 2026.

Ocean View School District Trustees changing how they are elected
The Ocean View School District Board of Trustees at the Feb. 13, 2024 meeting. Screenshot from YouTube.

The Ocean View School District is changing how it elects members to its Board of Trustees. 

At the board’s Feb. 13 meeting, trustees voted 3 to 2 to initiate shifting from at-large elections to ones based on trustee areas. Currently, registered voters living within OVSD boundaries vote for all five trustees. Starting with elections in 2026, registered voters in OVSD will vote for just one candidate to represent their specific trustee area on the board. Under the plan, the candidate must reside in the trustee area they wish to represent. 

The board’s vote starts a multi-step process that will split up the TK-8 district into five trustee voting areas. OVSD includes parts of Huntington Beach, Westminster, Fountain Valley, and Midway City and serves around 7,000 students at 14 campuses.

According to the approved resolution, the move is happening “in order to ensure compliance with the [California Voting Rights Act] or, at minimum, avoid the potential for costly litigation under the CVRA.” Signed into law in 2002, the California Voting Rights Act prohibits the use of at-large elections “if it would impair the ability of a protected class” to elect candidates of its choice or otherwise influence the outcome of an election. 

The CVRA allows minority residents to sue any of California’s local governing bodies whose at-large elections they believe may be diluting minority voters' voice. Since passage, dozens of city councils and school boards across the state have been sued and forced to change their election system, as detailed by The San Francisco Chronicle

The three OVSD trustees voting in favor of the move to trustee-area based elections were Gina Clayton-Tarvin, Patricia Singer, and Jack Souders. 

During the meeting, they all expressed apprehension at the change but said they would prefer to transition on their own terms rather than be forced to change under the threat of litigation. 

“I'm also not a fan of this and I don't like it,” Singer said of changing how trustees are elected, but added that she liked that it would not take effect until the 2026 election.

“So it would allow us to have the right public hearings, the public meetings, review maps, have community input. So it really does allow us to not be reactive and be forced into doing something in a rush and so I can appreciate that.”

Souders expressed concern about changing from a process where voters may feel that they have five trustees they can connect with rather than a system where voters feel they have only one representative. Ultimately, his focus was on finances. 

“What I do know is I don't like setting money on fire, and I like the money in this district to go to the students. And this is coming. Period. So we can either do it without getting sued and save ourselves a ton of money and be proactive, or we can vote against it,” Souders said before the vote.

Image of the first page of the two-page resolution passed by the OVSD Board of Trustees to initiate a shift to elections by trustee areas.

Souders also mentioned how the goal of the CVRA was to increase representation and suggested the OVSD may benefit from that. “We don’t have any Vietnamese faces up here,” Souders said. “Some of the Vietnamese population, they're huge into politics. … They love being here, because they've seen the other side. They know what it looks like in communist countries and oppressive regimes,” he added later on in the meeting.

Representation was an issue Trustee Clayton-Tarvin also touched on.

“We, all of us here [on the dais], live in Huntington Beach. The Ocean View School District consists of Huntington Beach, Westminster, Fountain Valley, and Midway City. We don't have any representatives here from those other three [areas]. We never have,” Clayton-Tarvin said and estimated there are a total of 100,000 constituents in the district.

Clayton-Tarvin, a teacher in another Southern California school district, also mentioned that after running for re-election in 2024, she would likely not seek her seat again the trustee areas would be in place.

“So this doesn't affect me. I just want to make it fair for every single person that lives in the Ocean View School District to have the opportunity to hold the position,” Clayton-Tarvin said.

Trustees Morgan Westmoreland and Norm Westwell both voted against the resolution.

Trustee Westmoreland said it could change how trustees are held accountable. “As an OVSD board member, I'm accountable to the entire OVSD community. And I wouldn't want to delineate boundary lines based on board voting support to who I am most accountable to,” she said. 

She also had concerns that the quality of candidates may be impacted by the new trustee areas.

“I saw it recently in other school [board] elections. You had several really great candidates and they're in one area and then you had a really poor candidate and they just happened to be aligned to an area that nobody else was running against them,” she said. Westmoreland won her seat in 2022 with 80 votes more than the fourth-place finisher in the district-wide election. 

Trustee Westwell called the shift to elections based on trustee areas a “terrible idea.”

“We haven't been sued yet, have we? We have not. This is a solution looking for a problem,” he said.

Westwell also expressed support for putting the issue before voters saying that if this was something the constituents were asking for, he would support it. “This is not organic from constituents. This is coming from the board,” Westwell said.

Westwell was critical of the movement to shift to by-trustee area elections saying the overarching effort to transform how local governing bodies are elected is coming from Democrats to benefit unions and being carried out by a "progressive 'woke' attorney who's out here trying to rape public school systems."

OVSD is joining a majority of school boards in Orange County that have by-trustee area elections. The Huntington Beach Union High School District recently made the switch and will hold its first by-trustee area elections this November. Voters in the Fountain Valley School District and the La Habra City School District still have district-wide elections.

Local cities are also transitioning. After fighting a lawsuit over the CVRA from Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman, the city of Cypress recently settled the case and will switch to by-district elections

“The agreement that resolves the lawsuit requires the district with the highest percentage of Asian American voters, measured by citizen voting age population estimates, must be one of the districts to elect its Council Member in November 2024,” reads a statement on the Cypress website.

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