Wednesday, September 7, 2022

NLMUSD approves change electing school board by districts

In an attempt to avoid costly litigation, the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District board has elected to change to a system of electing its members by district.

The move was triggered by a demand letter from an attorney stating that the district's method of electing its board members from votes submitted from across the entire district may violate the California Voters Rights Act 

Enacted in 2002, the CVRA bans any election system that impairs a minority group or protected class from influencing the outcome of an election by diluting their votes.

The placed the board into the position of either paying out millions to defend an at-large system with little hope of prevailing and paying the plaintiff's legal costs or change to a system of district voting.

By switching to electing a board by district, legal fees are capped at no more than $30,000.  Cities and districts that have chosen to fight almost always lose and find themselves paying the other plaintiff's legal bills that can run into the millions of dollars fast.

Dozens of demand letters are sent to cities and districts each month, mostly by the same attorney, and are widely seen as a shakedown. No proof supporting the allegation is required to submit such a letter.

Instead of bowing to a demand letter, the City of Santa Monica chose to fight all the way to the state Supreme Court where it awaits a decision after spending $7-10 million defending at-large elections there.  A request for $22 million in legal fees by the plaintiffs attorney's is on hold pending a decision in the matter. 

The City of Palmdale spent $4.7 million and Whittier $1 million before each reached an agreement to end at-large elections.

The next action by the school board will be to conduct two public hearings to allow community members to make suggestions and voice concerns on the criteria that the board adopts to be used to establish the boundaries of the new districts. A demographer will use those criteria in drawing up two or more maps of proposed districts, followed by two more public hearings on the proposed maps and then another hearing to adopt the final district map.

Simply stated, the public will have plenty of opportunities to voice their opinion of what constitutes a fair district and what a map for the school district should look like.

The school district has not announced when the board will hold the initial public hearing.

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