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Ojai Unified School District board to hold second public hearing April 17 on district voting mapping

Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter
Ojai Unified School District will hold its second public hearing April 17 on mapping new voting districts as the school board changes from its at-large voting system to district voting. The meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the school board room at 414 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai.
After this hearing, a demographer will draw up preliminary maps.
At its April 8 special meeting, the school board held the first of two public hearings concerning the composition of trustee areas.
The purpose of this hearing was to receive public input on how the trustee districts should be formed and criteria the demographer should consider when drafting the maps. 
The board decided at a special meeting last month to move forward with trustee areas where each board member would be elected only by the registered voters in his or her trustee area. The decision was in response to litigation threats received by other nearby jurisdictions, including the city of Ojai, to avoid paying any legal fees.
There was just one member of the public who spoke, Angie Genasci of the Ojai Federation of Teachers. However, Genasci said she was not speaking on behalf of the OFT, but rather for herself. “If you’re limited to a certain area, it concerns me that we are not going to get people who want to be on the school board,” Genasci said. “I think it’s difficult to find people who want to be involved in anything, and certainly in this position.”
Some board members made it clear they are opposed to the change, but are doing it out of necessity.
Board Clerk Jane Weil said: “I hate this idea. Because we’re such a small district, and you’re right, whether someone won’t run, or you actually don’t get the best candidate, just because they have to live in the right area, and you know a candidate across town would be a better representative of what you believe in. You won’t have a choice.”
Board President Thayne Whipple said, “It’s a terrible idea.”
Board Vice President Shelly Griffen said there may be unintended consequences to district voting. “The idea I think behind the law is so that any one demographic who usually lives in the same area has a greater voice. In our district, that is not the case with our demographics. We’re actually diluting our minority voice.”
Both Board Members Kevin Ruf and Michael Shanahan said the district has no choice but to proceed with the process of establishing district voting. “I just want to say I do think there’s also the possibility that people who never thought of running for school board, who are now in a special district, might come forward, and it might actually work better than we think,” Ruf said. “So, cause for optimism.”
Shanahan concurred. “Quite frankly, I decided to run when there was no one else running, and then a bunch of people decided to run,” Shanahan said. “I probably wouldn’t have done it actually if there were ... lots of people already running.”
“I appreciate the optimism,” Whipple said, “but I personally don’t see any good that can come out of this for our valley. I don’t see how we can not do it, because we’ll be under constant threat of litigation forever, unless the state changes the law and I doubt they will. I just think it’s a stupid state law, but it’s not the first stupid thing the state has done.”
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