By Scott Tibbs, June 10, 2013
The MCCSC School Board voted against reviewing the districts for school board members on May 29 after board member Sue Wanzer brought the issue up. Wanzer wanted to change the maps that were approved in 1994 - nearly twenty years ago - because of significant shifts in population. Wanzer pointed out that there is a range of population from 9,000 voters to 16,000 voters in the districts.
When the districts were approved in 1994, there was a lawsuit against the change, but the courts ruled in favor of MCCSC. At the time, the Herald-Times editorialized in favor of the maps, in part because of the balanced population of the districts. The population balance, of course, was one of the justifications for changing the maps.
That is an important point - districts that were redrawn twenty years ago to balance population are completely out of whack because of population shifts in the city and county. In the time since the MCCSC districts were redrawn, we have had two population counts from the U.S. Census that required state legislative and local government districts to be redrawn. It would be best practice to redraw the school board districts every ten years as well to ensure you do not have districts with dramatic differences in population.
I cannot see how anyone can look at the existing maps and defend what has been drawn, especially the fact that the districts are not contiguous. Was it really necessary to leave islands of one district inside another district? What purpose does that serve, in either policy or representation? Again, given that one of the purposes of redrawing the map in the first place was to balance population, what justification does this 1994 map have for 2013?
It is true that board members are elected at-large, so it is not the same situation as a county council or city council district map. Why have districts at all? Why not just dump the district system and allow everyone to run for the board? Some have complained that redrawing the map is a time-consuming and expensive process, and that problem would be eliminated by electing all members from a single pool of all voters in the county. Maps become outdated as our population grows, so that problem would be eliminated as well.
Whether the district map is redrawn or whether we go to an at-large system of electing board members, the current map is simply unacceptable and needs to be changed. In fact, it is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Redrawing the district map or going to an at-large system voluntarily would be less expensive than doing so after a lawsuit forces the school system to do so. Wanzer should bring it up again, and one of the four "no" votes needs to flip.