Monday, February 5, 2018

Single Member Districts Coming to RISD

Former Richardson ISD school board trustee David Tyson, Jr., wants to change the RISD's at-large election system. He wants it enough that he has sued the RISD, alleging its at-large election system is a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. One possible solution (not the only one) is for RISD to adopt single member districts.

I've expressed my opposition to single member districts for RISD before. My opposition boils down to two points:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.


Unknown said...

excellent write up. The only thing I might add is a lot of the support from Single Member Districts, is not in fact, coming from minorities, but rather white people. I sense from the posts, a lot of politicians are using the minority excuse to gain more control in their local neighborhood. Most understand SMD is not going to change the minority make up of the board.

I do have another thought thought, if we are going down this road, is it pragmatic to just dissolve a district and have four "independent" districts, one for each high school? What's the difference?

Of maybe Lake Highlands belongs to DISD which has SMD, Berkner to Garland, and Pearce to Plano? I begin to wonder if the model itself is outdated.

Mark Steger said...

There are two hopes for SMD. One is to increase racial/ethnic diversity. The other is to create neighborhood champions on the school board. SMD is more likely to promote the latter than the former. But the former is all that Tyson's lawsuit is about. And there might be other, better remedies for that than Tyson's desired SMD, especially in RISD. For example, see James Ragland's article in DMN for an explanation of "cumulative voting." I'm leaning in that direction myself.

Mark Steger said...

Subsequent discussions in other forums lead me to temper my second objection to SMD stated above. I now think it is possible (not assured, but possible) to draw, say, seven SMD in RISD in such a way that you get two or three compact, contiguous SMD with Hispanic and/or African-American majorities. These electoral districts wouldn't be based on high school attendance zones, but might serve to resolve Tyson's lawsuit.

Unknown said...

I've been develoing my opinion as,well reading posts. It sounds like we will have some minority cadidates this season. In reading both recent posts as well as your blog from 2011, i am becoming more convinced SMD will not habve the intended result david is looking for which at thr end of the day is the improvement of education for minorities. In lake highlands and Richardson, racists vote. We will see how these candidates are treated, but my opinion is RISD needs to be under court supervision until the achievement gap closes. You,cannot legislate morality.

Mark Steger said...

Bryan Holland, the issue of court supervision is one that didn't receive near enough public attention a few years ago when RISD successfully petitioned the court to get out from under that (see "Racial Segregation and Richardson Schools"). What makes David Tyson, Jr, perhaps not the best plaintiff in this new lawsuit is...
1) he, himself an African-American, won two elections in RISD, and
2) while serving on the school board he voted to petition the courts to remove RISD from court supervision for Voting Rights Act matters.

Bi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark Steger said...

"Bi", anonymous comments are not welcome here.