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Residents Rally Against Proposed Expansion of Orange County’s Education Board

Residents Rally Against Proposed Expansion of Orange County’s Education Board

Community members attend a rally opposing SB 907, a bill that would expand the board of education from five to seven, in Fullerton, Calif., on May 3, 2024. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

Sophie Li

Sophie Li

5/7/2024

Updated: 5/8/2024

A California bill that seeks to expand the Orange County Board of Education faced community opposition May 3, with critics describing it as “a political power grab.”
More than 50 local activists and local officials—including trustees Dr. Ken Williams, Lisa Sparks, and Jorge Valdes—gathered outside the office of Sen. Josh Newman in Fullerton last Friday to protest Senate Bill 907.
“[SB 907] advances [California Teachers Association] and anti-charter school principles,” board member Mr. Williams told The Epoch Times before the event. “This is [an] effort to replace the current conservative majority with an anti-charter liberal majority in the 2026 elections.”
The bill proposes expanding the board of trustees from five to seven members, which would entail a redistricting process, and shifting the election of trustees from the primary ballot to the general election ballot.
In an earlier statement, Mr. Newman said the expansion of the board aims to enhance representation in response to the county’s growing population.
“Since the last time the Orange County Department of Education was modified, in 1977, the population of Orange County has more than doubled,” said the bill author, who also chairs the Senate Education Committee. “Increasing the number of trustees on the county board will ensure a more representative and responsive board.”
But opponents argued that the population of Orange County is decreasing, so there’s no need to add trustees. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the county’s population has decreased by over 50,000 people since 2020, representing a loss of 1.6 percent.
The redistricting process would be overseen by an appointed committee, although opponents have expressed concerns that this process could become political in nature. They cite the board’s 2021 redistricting, when the committee comprised 12 Democrats and 2 Republicans.
Community members attend a rally opposing SB 907, a bill that would expand the board of education from five to seven, in Fullerton, Calif., on May 3, 2024. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

Community members attend a rally opposing SB 907, a bill that would expand the board of education from five to seven, in Fullerton, Calif., on May 3, 2024. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Williams added that through the redistricting process, the committee could weaken or even eliminate an incumbent’s ability to run in the elections.
Another key aspect of the bill is to shift the election to the general election, typically characterized by higher voter turnout, aiming to enable more voters to participate in the selection of board members, bill authors said.
They cited a 2021 study by the University of California–San Diego, which suggested that “shifting local races from the primary to the general election ballot not only materially increases turnout, by nearly twofold, but also engages a more racially and demographically representative voter population.”
“Moving these elections to the general election will harmonize the Board of Education’s elections with other important elections, and increase voter participation,” said Sen. Dave Min, co-author of the bill, in a statement.
Orange County Board of Education trustee Lisa Sparks speaks at a rally opposing SB 907  in Fullerton, Calif., on May 3, 2024. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

Orange County Board of Education trustee Lisa Sparks speaks at a rally opposing SB 907  in Fullerton, Calif., on May 3, 2024. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

However, Mr. Valdes suggested that if the bill’s concern is community representation, state lawmakers should redirect their focus to the Los Angeles Board of Education, where all members are appointed and represent a significantly larger population than Orange County’s.
Moreover, opponents argue that the bill will incur costs amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, covering expenses related to the additional board members and the producing of extra ballots.
According to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s analysis, the two additional board members would cost the county education department about $70,000 each year.
“SB 907 is a bad-to-the-bone bill,” board trustee Ms. Sparks said at the event. “Why should people in Sacramento be targeting Orange County only out of the 58 counties across the state?”
Bishop Gale Oliver Jr., left, says a prayer next to Orange County Board of Education trustee Ken Williams at a rally opposing SB 907  in Fullerton, Calif., on May 3, 2024. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

Bishop Gale Oliver Jr., left, says a prayer next to Orange County Board of Education trustee Ken Williams at a rally opposing SB 907  in Fullerton, Calif., on May 3, 2024. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

Also present at the event was Steven Choi, former mayor of Irvine and state Assemblyman, who’s running against Mr. Newman in November.
“This is a very significant day for us to show the people’s power and the voice of Orange County,” Mr. Choi told attendees. “There’s no reason for the political weaponization of his power as a supermajority senator at the Senate that does not represent the votes of Orange County.”
Stephanie Townsend, who has taught kindergarten and preschool for 20 years, expressed her support for the current board members, emphasizing their dedication to providing essential education for children, which she believes should not be a partisan issue.
“This board is focusing on reading, writing, and mathematics, which is what schools should be about,” Ms. Townsend said.
The group also announced that another protest will be held in front of Mr. Min’s office in Irvine on May 10.
SB 907 advanced through the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee last month before proceeding to the Appropriations Committee on April 29.
Currently, it has been placed in the suspense file because its cost exceeds $50,000.
Orange County Board of Education trustee Jorge Valdes speaks at a rally opposing SB 907, a bill that would expand the board of education from five to seven, in Fullerton, Calif., on May 3, 2024. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

Orange County Board of Education trustee Jorge Valdes speaks at a rally opposing SB 907, a bill that would expand the board of education from five to seven, in Fullerton, Calif., on May 3, 2024. (Sophie Li/The Epoch Times)

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Sophie Li

Sophie Li

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Sophie Li is a Southern California-based reporter covering local daily news, state policies, and breaking news for The Epoch Times. Besides writing, she is also passionate about reading, photography, and tennis.

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