The Orange County Board of Education is fighting a two-front battle against union-aligned political interests seeking to displace the current board majority, which is noted for strongly supporting charter schools and a return to in-person classroom instruction, as well as for opposing mask mandates and incorporating racially-divisive academic theories into the school curriculum.
At stake is potential control of a governing body that has served as a safety valve for charter school applicants stymied by union-dominated school boards.
In Sacramento, progressive Senator Dave Min, a critic of the OCBE since his election in 2020, is pushing through legislation to move the election of board members from the June primary to the November general election – over the objections of the OCBE.
Closer to home, the obscure Orange County Committee for School District Organization (OCCSDO) broke with precedent and refused to approve the voting district map adopted by the OCBE, instead hiring a partisan Democrat consultant to draw a new map. OCCSDO members are chosen by local school boards, whose members are generally aligned with teacher union interests.
Obscure Agency Intervenes In OCBE Voting Districts Map Creation
On December 8, 2021, the five-member Orange County Board of Education approved a new district map with zero-population deviation between each district. The map includes a district that is 51% Hispanic, and another that is 34% Asian, and is compliant with the California Voting Rights Act.
The next step was for the Orange County Committee for School District Organization to consider the map for approval – somwthing it has historically done as a matter of routine.
The OCCSDO has considered nine school district voting district maps going back to October 2017. In every single instance, the committee approved the submitted maps without amendment – and did so unanimously in all but one instance.
Not this time.
A special meeting OCCSDO was scheduled for December 10 to consider the adopted map. Instead of approving the OCBE’s adopted map, the committee voted to consider alternative maps. It hired Paul Mitchell, the proprietor of Redistricting Partners and Political Data, Inc. (PDI), to advise them on the matter.
Mitchell is a partisan Democrat consultant whose PDI is by far the state’s largest vendor of voting data to political campaigns. Last year, Mitchell announced that his company would no longer sell data to Republican candidates or campaigns, citing his “commitment to building the progressive movement.” Four of the five members of the Orange County Board of Education are Republicans.
At its January 14 meeting, OCCSDO member Jackie Filbeck moved to consider a map that had been submitted by Billie Joe White, a former teachers union president. Filbeck is a trustee of the Anaheim Elementary School District and is heavily backed by the public school unions. Although she and White ran against each other for the AESD Board of Education in 2016, they subsequently became friends and allies:
The OCCSDO members are appointed by Orange County’s local school boards, most of whose members depend on teachers’ unions to finance their campaigns. Unsurprisingly, the OCCSDO is stacked with members who are either teacher union allies, or union activists themselves.
Public comments at both the December 10 and January 14 meetings were overwhelmingly in support of the map drawn by the OCBE, according to the minutes of the two meetings.
Faced with the prospect of a biased hearing from a politically hostile OCCSDO, the Orange County Board of Education filed with the court on January 20, asking it to stop the OCCSDO from rejecting its adopted map. the suit alleges the committee broke state law by violating a deadline and that the OCCSDO is too biased to render a fair decision.
The OCCSDO met again on January 27 to vote on of its choice. Democratic activists mobilized in support of Wright’s map.
The meeting had boisterous moments and most members of the public in attendance spoke in support of the OC Board of Education’s adopted map.
Unswayed, the union-friendly members of the OCCSDO voted for Wright’s map. Wright and union other activists celebrated their victory on social media, one exulting “union thugs for the win!”:
Things moved rapidly from there: the following Monday, Superior Court Judge David Hoffer rejected the OCBE’s request for a quick decision, putting it off until May – less than a month before OC Board of Education elections in June. Hoffer’s ruling is unusual: judges in such cases usually grant expedited rulings, given the pressing nature of election deadlines such as candidate filings and mailing out ballots.
OC Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley announced he would accept the OCCSDO’s map, which prompted the OC Board of Education to add him to its lawsuit.
On Tuesday, February 1, the Orange County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution backing the Orange County Board of Education in its dispute with the OCCSDO. The vote was 3-2, with Supervisors Don Wagner, Lisa Bartlett and Andrew Do supporting the OCBE, and Supervisors Katrina Foley and Doug Chaffee voting against the resolution.
Supervisor Chaffee has his own connection to the OC Board of Education imbroglio: his wife Paulette ran for the Orange County Board of Education from the 4th District in June 2020, finishing fourth in an election that was won by La Habra City Councilman Tim Shaw.
A close friend of Ms. Chaffee’s subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging Shaw’s service on both the OCBE and the La Habra City Council violated a state law against holding incompatible offices. The matter was never litigated, as Shaw ultimately opted to resign from the OCBE. He then later resigned from the city council and was re-appointed to the Board of Education.
Paulette Chaffee is widely expected to run again for the OC Board of Education.
County counsel Leon Page told the Board of Supervisors that he would “zealously advocate” for the supervisors’ position, which could entail involvement in the court fight between the OCBE and OCCSDO.
Sen. Min Targets Timing Of OCBE Elections
The other front in the fight for control of the OC Board of Education is in Sacramento.
Sen. Dave Min, a progressive Democrat, introduced SB 286, which would bifurcate the elections of the County Superintendent and the OCBE – moving the board elections to the November general election while keeping the superintendent election on the June primary.
“That is like a city electing the mayor in June and the city council in November, or electing the President in June and the Congress in November,” says Tim Shaw. “It makes no sense, and merely underscores how transparently political Min’s motives are.”
SB 286 is moving rapidly through the legislature on party-line votes. On January 26, it passed the state Senate 30-7, moving on to the Assembly.
While Min denies any political motivations, he has publicly attacked the OCBE as “stupid” and “Trumpy:”
SB 286 opponents contend Min’s motives are political: general election voter turnout is larger, and usually more Democratic than in the primary – which could work in favor of teacher union-supported candidates for the OC Board of Education.
During the last few election cycles, public school unions have tried unsuccessfully to wrest control of the OCBE away from the pro-charter school governing majority. If they succeed, it would dramatically reduce the chances of expanding the number of charter schools in Orange County.
The state teachers unions – which have made rolling back charter schools their top political priority – heavily supported Min’s candidacy in 2020, funneling $32,500 into his campaign coffers.
Battles Are Outgrowth Of Ongoing Conflict Over Charter Schools and CRT
The battle stems from the OCBE majority’s support for charter schools and expanded school choice, as well as its opposition to mask mandates and early advocacy for returning to in-person instruction in the classroom.
The OCBE has spotlighted how Critical Race Theory principles are making their way into classrooms and curriculum, which has earned backlash from the education establishment.
Teacher unions, by contrast, have generally fought efforts to return to in-person instruction, have made restricting charter schools a top priority, and have defended the incorporation of race-based theories like CRT into the school curriculum.
Now, the OCBE finds itself defending itself on two fronts – here in Orange County and in the state legislature – against political adversaries associated with the public school unions who are seeking to alter the election rules and terrain in hopes to replace the conservative, pro-charter school majority with board members who are more amenable to teacher union priorities and the status quo.