School Board Approves Redistricting Plan

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A partisan tone once again reared its head Tuesday when the Wake County Board of Education voted 5-3 to approve a new redistricting plan.

At a public work session before the official meeting, the board also voted 5-3 not to ask for additional plan options from Shanahan Law Group (SLG), as requested by the community groups Great Schools in Wake and the League of Women Voters.

The school board, like other elected bodies, must redraw district lines every decade following the federal census. The board hired SLG to develop the new map.

Although the agenda for Tuesday’s work session called for board members to “discuss the input received at the hearing [of May 10] and the impact on the plan,” the portion of the work session set aside for redistricting featured little entertainment of ideas put forth by individual community members, Great Schools and the League of Women Voters.

Both votes broke down largely along party lines. Carolyn Morrison (District 6) was the lone Democrat to side with her Republican colleagues on both votes.

Although all board members praised SLG’s work, several Democratic board members raised concerns about the lack of transparency and options in the process.

Board member Kevin Hill (District 3) decried the lack of a work session dedicated to redistricting and called Tuesday’s work session “a show and tell.”

“As a social studies teacher, I love multiple choice questions,” he said. “I like options to dig into.”

“I don’t know that [the process] has been open, transparent and inclusive,” he added after the work session, referring to the language in the redistricting guidelines adopted by the board Feb. 15.

Republican board members said the process has been thorough and included previous work sessions during which the board addressed redistricting, plus a public hearing and meetings between SLG and individual board members.

“I don’t know what else we could have done,” said Chris Malone (District 1). “If we change things we’re going to come up with a whole other set of problems, another set of issues, and we’ll argue about that.”

Hill said that the board had never sat down as a group and worked out problems with the plan.

Even the plan’s Republican supporters declared their unhappiness with certain aspects of the plan affecting their districts, including schools that would fall into other members’ districts.

“It’s not easy, but I know we all have to give and take,” said Board Member Deborah Prickett.

The board directed SLG to make some changes to the plan following public input on the district’s website and at a May 10 public hearing. These changes avoid splitting some communities and stretching some districts — such as Anne McLaurin’s District 5 and Morrison’s District 6 — farther away from their cores.

Left: SLG’s first redistricting proposal. Right: The new school board districts as approved by the board Tuesday. Click image to view larger version.

The revised plan also more closely adheres to one of the board’s goals by greatly reducing the number of split voter tabulation districts from seven to one.

Board member Keith Sutton (District 4) expressed concern that the changes were never offered for public consideration.

“What we control as the board is the process,” he said. “That’s what I’m questioning  — not the product that came out of the process.”

Kieran Shanahan, head of the law firm, seemed to cast doubt on the motivations of those seeking options.

“Part of being an elected official is the greater good,” he said. “You can’t be too parochial to draw favor to yourself and exclude people.”

Shanahan also fended off criticism that the process had not been open and transparent. His law firm had refused to release specific information about precincts that are split under the new plan when the media and Great Schools in Wake made formal information requests. SLG finally released the information late last week.

Members of Great Schools continued to compare the school board to the Town of Cary, which developed 19 redistricting options and repeatedly solicited public input. Great Schools itself came up with two versions of a redistricting map and offered three information sessions around the county.

“We offered to work with Shanahan,” said Great Schools Member Patty Williams. “They don’t care about democracy.”

Board Attorney Ann Majestic informed the board that she had researched the last redistricting process in 2001. The board at that time had considered multiple plans before winnowing them down to two finalists on which the board voted.

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