Wednesday, February 14, 2018

RISD's Reaction to Tyson's Lawsuit

Former Richardson ISD school board trustee David Tyson, Jr., has sued the RISD, alleging its at-large election system is a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was the RISD's official response.
"The Board understands that our stakeholders have interest in this case," said Justin Bono, President of the RISD Board of Trustees. "It is a complex matter, and the Board will work diligently to fully understand the details of the case and ultimately make decisions on the best course of action for the District. As this is a pending court case, we hope the community understands that our responses and remarks have to be within the context of the appropriate legal settings moving forward."
Source: RISD.
I have my own reaction to that. Two, actually...

One, of course the RISD has to clam up. The time for talking publicly would have been *before* you end up in court. It's too late now. RISD trustees and superintendent missed the opportunity to discuss this issue openly with the RISD community a month ago, before the lawsuit was filed but after it was already publicly known that David Tyson, Jr., was calling for change. Instead of the board's executive sessions that we can expect in the coming weeks and months, out of earshot of the public, we could have had open deliberations by the board, with public comments, on the pros and cons of the existing system versus alternatives. We could have had a board "listening tour" around RISD to hear from stakeholders, just like was done before calling a bond election. Those opportunities are now gone. Whatever comes out of this lawsuit, it'll happen largely without input from the RISD community. That's a shame.

Two, it's what Bono doesn't say that might be most important in this statement. He doesn't say something like, "RISD will vigorously defend itself against this baseless lawsuit..." He isn't backing himself into a corner. It's encouraging that he doesn't mention the adversarial relationship that this lawsuit puts Tyson and RISD in. Talks will now be opened with Tyson's legal team. I hope the RISD doesn't instinctively resist change, but instead seeks to find a mutually satisfactory way forward that meets everyone's careabouts: Tyson wants an election system that better advances the representation of our minority community; RISD, as Bono puts it, wants to "continue to promote success for 100 percent of our students"; and voters want an election system that they can have full confidence will be fair, democratic, and representative of all in RISD.

We didn't have to do it this way, but we can still emerge from this better off than we were, provided we work towards win-win solutions for all.

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