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Redistricting commission votes on new LA Unified school board boundaries

The LAUSD Redistricting Commission met Feb. 23 to vote on a map to send on to the City Council for new school board district lines.
The LAUSD Redistricting Commission met Feb. 23 to vote on a map to send on to the City Council for new school board district lines.
Tami Abdollah / KPCC
The LAUSD Redistricting Commission met Feb. 23 to vote on a map to send on to the City Council for new school board district lines.
The LAUSD Redistricting Commission met Feb. 23, 2012 to vote on a map to send on to the City Council for new school board district lines. School board member Marguerite LaMotte can be seen wearing pink in the front row.
Tami Abdollah / KPCC

After five hours of heated discussion Thursday night that included accusations of political pandering, gerrymandering, and a lack of public outreach, the L.A. Unified Redistricting Commission overwhelmingly agreed on a map of new school board boundaries to send over to the City Council.

The map named "Cv1" (plus minor adjustments) was approved by a 14-1 commission vote. Commissioner Mark Lewis voted against the map because he said it would break up multiple communities within District 5.

Commissioners have spoken out against the redistricting process with several saying Thursday that it was rushed and did not do enough to involve and inform the public. In meetings held over the last weeks for public input, a total of about 1,000 people showed up, said the commission's executive director Doug Wance. LAUSD is the nation's second-largest district and serves nearly 700,000 students.

On Thursday, the 15 volunteer commissioners were emailed the maps at 3 a.m. and were scheduled to vote on their preferred version at  a 6 p.m. meeting. The maps were not emailed to the public until 8 a.m., Wance said.

School board member Marguerite LaMotte said she was "mad as hell" about the way the commission was handling their duties."I just got the maps today," LaMotte said to the commission Thursday night. "...Give us time to really look at this and make some really valid, credible questions, don't play games that have been played before."

As parents and community members gathered downtown Thursday night to discuss these once-in-a-decade changes to the school board's districts, two other meetings were also taking place for parents and community members to weigh in on a new homework policy for the district. By the time the maps were brought up for discussion, it was nearly 10 p.m. and the crowd of about 70 had dwindled down to a couple dozen people, many with ties to the board or activist organizations

"You have a bunch of people on the other side [of town] that have no idea you guys are here," said Roberto Fonseca, a parent of two LAUSD kids who spoke early in the night and had to leave at 9:30 p.m. "When you try to set up a meeting and you want the public [to come] you have to look at other [plans]."

Redistricting is required at least once every 10 years to account for population shifts determined by new census data.

LaMotte and many others were upset that African-American population data was not provided for each of the proposed maps, while Asian, Latino, Jewish and Armenian numbers were included.

Paul Mitchell, a consultant who serves as the commission's technical director, said the data is often drawn from surnames and that African American surnames can be misleadingly identified as another race and yield inaccurate data, so it wasn't included.

The maps were drawn by Mitchell based on the draft map submitted by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. Mitchell said he used input from the commissioners and public testimony to create the versions before the commission Thursday. The MALDEF/NALEO map works to create three strong Latino voter districts.

Much of Thursday night's public testimony included complaints about public outreach.

Terry Stoller, a social studies teacher at Van Nuys High School, had his class create maps to submit to the redistricting commission, but because of technical issues on the site could not submit the maps them. When he emailed the commission to explain what happened, he was emailed back that his comments had been added to the public testimony.

Stoller said he believed the courts would ultimately throw out the adopted boundaries because the process was too rushed, there was insufficient public input and the numbers did not add up right. Stoller said he and others at the meeting felt "it was a done deal" regardless of what they said.

"The district encompasses more than just L.A. city," Stoller said. "For L.A. city to dictate to the little cities is wrong. I think this should be handled by L.A. county"

Board member Steve Zimmer, who risked being drawn out of his district depending on the map that was adopted, said he was relieved by the vote to recommend map Cv1 with adjustments because it keeps him in his district.

"It's a map that does attempt to account for all the different interests and complications and legal issues, and balance them," Zimmer said. "I don't think for any of us, it's not perfect. But I do think it has veered away from extremes and toward coalition."

The commission will hold its final meeting Feb. 29 at 6 p.m. at LAUSD headquarters, where the final report will be presented and more public testimony can be made. The approved map must be submitted to L.A. City Council by March 1. The city council will have until July 1 to adopt a map.

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).