The Richardson ISD is adopting single-member election districts. The proposed map is drawing many comments, pro and con. The more I think about all the different careabouts this map has to balance, the more interesting it is. Here are a few of my own idle thoughts. OK, maybe not so few.The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece...the entire universe will get busted.
Increasing the likelihood of minorities to achieve representation on the school board is the basis of the lawsuit and the basis of the settlement. Any map drawing exercise starts with drawing majority-minority districts. Given the RISD's demographics, the density of minorities is in a horizontal strip in the center of the RISD map. Crafting the boundaries with care, you can draw two majority-minority districts (the blue and purple ones in the proposed map). That's our starting point. Everything else is filling in what's left of the map, keeping the total population of each district approximately the same.
By the way, the population balance has to be by total population, not eligible voters or registered voters or people who actually voted in the last election. There's nothing the RISD can do to force a balance in turnout, but perhaps future turnout will be higher in districts that before now usually didn't have one of their neighbors on the ballot. That would be a plus.
The most gerrymander-looking district is the yellow one in the south. Because the districts all have to have about the same population, and because the population south of the given purple district isn't large enough to qualify for its own district, you have to get creative at enlarging the yellow district without decreasing the viability of the purple district as a majority-minority district. The solution chosen by the RISD is to make an end run to the west, barely keeping it all contiguous with a bottleneck at US75/Forest Ln. One source of dissatisfaction with this solution might come from that rump of the yellow district northwest of that bottleneck. Will they feel unrepresented if consistently outvoted by Lake Highlands?
Another potentially unpopular decision is to lump Prairie Creek and much of Canyon Creek in with the green district, which otherwise is largely the Berkner attendance area. I don't have the numbers, but the green district east of US75 probably might not have a large enough population to be a district on its own, and it can't expand south without bumping into the fixed blue district. So, let's stipulate that the green district has to spill west of US75. But perhaps the green district should absorb the neighborhoods south of Prairie Creek instead, which might be more demographically similar to the rest of the green district. If so, this might also yield a third district that could be competitive for minority candidates, another plus. The downside is that the green district would be absorbing RHS families instead of PHS families. The RHS attendance zone already looks fractured. I'm not sure the RHS community would look kindly at being fractured among four voting districts (all five if you count that little bit of the purple district in the RHS attendance zone). By the same token, this adjustment would mean only one of the five single-member district trustees would be accountable to voters in the PHS attendance zone. All other high school communities would have at least two. I'm not sure PHS would look kindly at that. There are pros and cons to any choice here.
Many are concerned that elementary school attendance boundaries are being split between election districts. I'm not sure that's a bad thing. It means there are two (or more) trustees accountable to voters in that school zone. More representation on the school board is better, no? In any case, let's look at the challenge of eliminating split school zones. According to the RISD, the proposed map includes 17 elementary schools that are divided between districts. All of them involve the two minority-majority districts. The 17 schools represent 41% of our total elementary schools. Why so many? Why can't they be absorbed one way or the other? I'm really getting into speculative territory here. Federal law generally requires integrated school districts. But the settlement of this lawsuit requires drawing election districts that segregate minorities into majority-minority districts. There is bound to be tension between the school attendance boundaries that can pass muster with federal integration law and the new voting district boundaries that are trying to achieve, let's be honest, the opposite of integration. I would not be surprised if elementary school attendance boundaries are in conflict with the goal of drawing majority-minority election districts. Like I said, that's highly speculative. I have done no research to test the hypothesis.
This is a fascinating problem, even with good intentions. To borrow a phrase, it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. We'll get a chance to solve it again, a different way, after the 2020 census results are in, but making changes to the map now will be easier than after we start electing trustees with it, so keep your own thoughts and suggestions coming. The board intends to vote on the map at its February 4 meeting.