Thursday, February 7, 2019


It's another blog post full of acronyms and numbers. Bear with me, please.

The Richardson ISD school board formally adopted single-member districts (SMD) for upcoming elections. Five trustees will be chosen by voters in geographic districts and two will be chosen at-large by all voters. The districts were carefully drawn to ensure two of them would have minority populations that make up a majority of the voters in those districts. The data show how tenuous that turned out to be.

First, the constitutionally legal requirements: the districts range in size (total population) from 40,742 (District 1, or the "Pearce district") to 43,811 (District 5, or the "Lake Highlands district"). I haven't studied the details, but you probably can't achieve more balance without dividing voting precincts. Besides, those numbers are a moving target, with people moving in and out of the district every day, so let's just say, as my grandfather used to, "close enough for government work."

Second, the more important breakdown: the citizen voting-age population (CVAP) in each district. CVAP determines who *can* vote, not who *does* vote, so CVAP, not total population, determines what's possible in each district. CVAP tells a more interesting story than total population.

CVAP ranges in size from 22,071 (District 3, the "Latino opportunity district") to 30,884 (District 5 again, the "Lake Highlands district"). What this means is that, if you live in District 5 (the "Lake Highlands district"), your vote is worth only about 3/4 what a vote in the "Latino opportunity district" (District 3) is worth, measured by how many more votes it takes in District 5 to ensure a win than the number of votes it takes in District 3 to ensure a win.

This is not "democratic", not "one person, one vote", in the broadest sense of those terms, but it's legal and, given RISD demographics, it's necessary to achieve the minority opportunity districts called for in the settlement of the voting-rights lawsuit. This disparity in voting power is nothing new in American voting. Wyoming voters have much more power than, say, California voters do in terms of how many votes in each state are needed to ensure election of Congresspersons or Senators. I merely point out that we'll now have an example closer to home than Wyoming when discussing the undemocratic nature of America's voting system.

Despite the favorable map, the breakdown of CVAP in those minority opportunity districts shows that electing minorities is no sure thing.

District 4 (the "black opportunity district") shows what this lawsuit was all about. It's 55.4% black and only 22.4% white. If race affects voting patterns in RISD at large, keeping blacks from running or getting elected, District 4 should now be free from that adverse effect. But note that 55.4%, while a majority, is hardly an overwhelming majority. In a contested race, the winning candidate will still need an effective get-out-the-vote effort.

District 3 (the "Latino opportunity district"), on the other hand, is only 19.1% Latino. It's 23.9% black and 43.9% white. Whites aren't a majority in this minority opportunity district, but they are a plurality. In a contested race, the winning candidate is going to have to demonstrate he or she can draw significant support from all communities in the district.

This map just shows the playing field (or fields). We still need to encourage strong candidates to run. The different neighborhoods and interest groups still need to get out the vote. Without that, this whole process will just have been an exercise in futility. The RISD community now has the opportunity to have a school board that looks like the community as a whole. The rest is up to us.


Mark Steger said...

P.S. RISD as a whole is now a minority-majority school district. Its total population is 50.3% minority. I've known for a while that school enrollment is minority-majority, but this is the first I've seen the same applies to total population. said...

LOL. This is why I am predicting there will be a lot more "discussion" perhaps up to and including litigation if someone challenges this SMD plan. Such is simply the reality of political cartography.

Brian Marks
Heights Park

Unknown said...

Wasn't the main basis and justification for the suit the fact that students at those schools seem to not receive the support they need to succeed academically? I think it is really very sad that everyone seems to assume that if you aren't the right race/ethnicity/gender you won't step up as a BOT member to get students what is needed. Especially since the money we have is more heavily weighted towards needy students than the easy ones. I have no idea if it is distributed on that basis, but that is how the WADA is calculated.

We really need BOT members who put academics for all students ahead of anything that doesn't contribute to meeting the primary requirement for a school district, which is educating students. Everything else is secondary to that requirement and I will vote that way even though I don't meet the ethnic/racial/gender litmus test. IMO, obviously.

Marcia Grau (someday I might figure out how to get my name to show up here)

Mark Steger said...

According to the original complaint, "Mr. Tyson brings this Complaint because the Board plainly and consistently prioritizes this cluster of high-performing, primarily white schools at the expense of the rest of the community. The purpose underlying locally controlled independent school districts is to empower the entire community. In short, the present at-large election system denies equal voting opportunity to most of the parents of children enrolled in RISD schools."

According to the RISD's response to the complaint, "Defendants deny any assertions or suggestions that the District’s Board of Trustees do not make decisions concerning the allocation of the District’s resources in a manner that benefits all students equally. Defendants deny any assertion or suggestion contained in this paragraph that the Board favors schools within Richardson ISD on the basis of race."

Both the complaint and the response go into much more detail, but I think that captures the gist of the lawsuit accurately.

Unknown said...

I don't think they prioritize based on race or ethnicity. I do think they prioritize based on the amount of effort and money needed to educate a student. They'd rather spend funds on things that are cool than focus on boring things like making sure all students can read, comprehend what they read and at least do basic math. I hope that ACE starts moving us in that direction and people run who want to accomplish the primary goal of public education.

Marcia Grau