Fresno Unified board backs new election map

The Fresno Unified school board Wednesday recommended a new trustee-area map -- part of an overhaul for how trustees will be elected next year.

The change requires shifting some trustee area boundaries to create a second Hispanic-majority district in southwest Fresno -- the Edison High School area.

The other Hispanic-majority area is the Roosevelt High area.

Trustees considered three maps as options to forward to the Fresno County Committee on School District Organization, which must approve the plan for use in the 2010 school board elections.

The plan approved by the board would shift some of the area represented by trustee Larry Moore -- the Roosevelt High area -- into the area represented by trustee Cal Johnson in southwest Fresno.

The Roosevelt High trustee area would shift north.

Other trustee areas are slightly altered, but those surrounding Sunnyside and Bullard high schools would remain unchanged.

Fresno Unified and many other districts recently decided to change the method by which their school trustees are elected following threats of legal action.

Voting-rights advocates and groups including El Concilio de Fresno contend the at-large voting system violates state and federal laws and lessens the chances for minority candidates to win.

Currently, Fresno Unified trustees must reside within certain geographic boundaries of the district, but they are elected by voters at-large.

Under the new system, trustees would be elected only by those voters living in the trustee areas.

Venancio Gaona of El Concilio said he supports the new boundaries approved by trustees. But he said he would still like the board's plan to be reviewed by a California civil rights attorneys group.

Trustee Carol Mills told Gaona that this plan will not be long-term and that the board will have to consider another plan following the 2010 U.S. census.

"This is just for one election," she said.

Trustee Janet Ryan said the board has to move quickly in order to have a plan in place for next year's election. "We need to do it tonight."

Gaona said that if trustees felt rushed, it's because they should have acted years earlier.

"We know, given time, we could have come up with a better plan."

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