State Center approves new trustee boundaries

Board members in the area's largest community college district Tuesday approved new trustee boundaries that will help change how they are elected.

The move is one step in State Center Community College District's switch from at-large elections to a system in which only voters in an individual area select their trustee.

El Concilio de Fresno has pressed for such change from State Center and other districts. Fresno Unified also is dumping at-large elections under pressure from voting-rights advocates and groups such as El Concilio.

Advocates contend that at-large systems violate state and federal law and decrease the chance that minority candidates will win.

Tuesday, El Concilio officials said they would support the new State Center boundaries as a temporary solution so area-based elections can begin this November.

Venancio Gaona, chairman of El Concilio, objected to the irregular configuration of one Fresno trustee area, calling it "not ideal."

But he said he would accept the new boundaries with the understanding that officials will correct the trustee map once 2010 census data are available.

Trustee Dorothy Smith, the incumbent in the disputed area, said the board has the community's best interests at heart. "We want to do what's right," she said.

Board President Patrick Patterson pointed out that trustees didn't draw the five maps considered Tuesday. Consultants prepared the plans.

Within State Center, the district's seven trustees now are required to live in defined areas. But they have been elected at-large, or by voters in the entire college district.

The map adopted Tuesday carves out seven trustee areas -- currently, there are six -- creating two Hispanic-majority areas. One is in the Reedley area ranging east, and the other is concentrated in Fresno.

Each area includes an incumbent trustee and population of approximately 124,000. State Center covers more than 5,500 square miles in Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kings counties.

The election switch still must clear some state and federal hurdles. The Fresno County Committee on School District Organization also must approve the revised boundaries.

Three trustee areas -- including the Hispanic-majority areas -- are scheduled for the November ballot.