I've expressed my opposition to single member districts for RISD before. My opposition boils down to two points:
- Single member districts work against cooperation and encourage competition. I suppose if you don't like the results that RISD's current system is delivering, then any change might be welcomed, but in general, I prefer cooperation.
- Single member districts bring no assurance of accomplishing the goal of more diverse representation on the school board. Each of RISD's four high schools have approximately the same diversity as RISD as a whole. If RISD as a whole is electing white school board members, it's likely single member districts will too...unless the single member districts are drawn with borders shaped like salamanders to create majority minority districts. That achieves minority representation but not neighborhood representation. It's the latter, not the former, that some champions of single member districts really want.
So why are so many political entities represented by single member districts?
In some cases, the political entity is too large for at-large elections to be representative. For example, does anyone expect Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn to understand the issues of, say, New York? The United States is so large that it makes sense for Texans and New Yorkers to each elect their own senators. This argument doesn't apply to RISD. The issues in RISD are largely uniform across the relatively small district. Candidates should understand and winning candidates usually do understand the district as a whole.
In some cases, courts have decided that at-large voting systems result in the majority race/ethnicity outvoting minorities, denying them fair representation. In these cases, adopting single member districts with some majority minority districts is a feasible way to achieve racial/ethnic diversity in representation. This is what the Tyson lawsuit alleges is the case for RISD.
So far, this blog post is just retreading the same ground as that post from September. What's different now? Simply put, the issue is now in the hands of the courts. What the RISD should have thrashed out internally all by itself is now out its hands. The RISD will spend a boatload of money it doesn't have vainly defending the status quo and will probably end up with a court-enforced change anyway. This is an unforced error on the part of the RISD board of trustees. When you can see the rapids coming, it's best to steer a course through them before you are upon them. What should have been a relatively cheap, amicable dialog among all parties of the RISD now runs the risk of becoming a bitter, expensive legal fight. In the end, change is coming. Whether that change results in minority representation on the school board is much less certain.