Wednesday, January 30, 2019

RISD Single-Member Districts: The Public Speaks

Finally, after a long year of school board trustees discussing the lawsuit in executive session, after a long year of lawyers sparring over procedural issues in court, the public finally got a chance to weigh in on the Richardson ISD's legal settlement agreeing to introduce single-member districts in elections.

The single-member district map shown by the RISD at a Tuesday evening board meeting and public hearing was colorful. Bright red, green, yellow, blue, and purple districts stood out. But I was more interested in the color of the 50 or so members of the public in attendance. Almost all shades of white were represented, but only a smattering of black and brown, indicating to me both the underlying problem of a lack of diversity on the RISD school board and the suggestion that change won't just instantly happen even with this new hybrid 5-2 single-member district plan, of which two of the districts will be majority-minority.

Public Hearing:

The first input came before the meeting. Plaintiff David Tyson asked for a minor adjustment in district boundaries, which was granted. A few blocks south of Belt Line, east of Waterview, were shifted from one district to another. [Correction: The Board has not made any decision yet on altering the proposed boundaries and will discuss and vote on a final map at Monday’s (Feb 4) regular meeting.]

Council of PTAs representative: 1. Current map divides some elementary attendance zones between electoral districts. 2. PTA asks for board to put processes in place to encourage trustees to consider the best interest of RISD as a whole and not just their district. 3. PTA asks what will happen if no candidate emerges from a district.

Parent: Our neighborhood is split between districts. Please consider unifying it.

Grandparent: Why include Prairie Creek and some of Canyon Creek in the district that includes Berkner High School? Will they outvote the rest of the district?

Parent: If no one runs for election in one of the new districts, what happens?

Hamilton Park Civic League president: This is one of the best things to happen to Hamilton Park in its history.

Former RISD trustee: I want to express my support for this change. I want to thank David Tyson for his initiative in taking this step which is the right thing for this district.

My takeaway: The public, as represented in this audience, is supportive of this change. There is some concern about splitting neighborhoods, but no calls for canceling the decision to adopt single-member districts.

As for splitting elementary school attendance areas between districts, I was told by the district that 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. This tells me that divided schools are almost as much the rule as the exception. The need to create those minority-majority districts will be hard to overcome.

As for splitting high school attendance boundaries, I consider that a feature as much a bug. Each of the five single-member districts will have a significant number of voters from two high schools, meaning each trustee will feel some voter pressure to represent not just one school, but two. And each high school will be able to turn to not just one trustee, but two, who will be voted in by a significant number of parents from that high school.


Mark Steger said...

Correction: I said that plaintiff David Tyson's request to adjust the boundary between two districts was granted. I've now been informed that the Board has not made any decision yet on altering the proposed boundaries and will discuss and vote on a final map at Monday’s (Feb 4) regular meeting.

Mark Steger said...

If I'm looking at things right, the map the trustees ended up adopting did not include the adjustment requested by plaintiff David Tyson.