Monday, May 16, 2011

Britney Spears and the Wake County School Board's Redistricting Plan

Last month, I wrote a post about how the Wake County Public School System's Board approach might relate to the school systems accreditation problems.  Since our accreditation hinges on the School Board's ability to repair its fractured relationships with the community it is supposed to serve, I proposed that the legally-required 10 year redistricting process was an excellent way to start rebuilding trust with the Wake County citizens.

Alas, it appears that the Board has not taken my sage advice.  Instead, as I look at the way they are choosing to handle the redistricting issue, it reminds me of one of Britney Spear's most famous songs-- "Oops, I did it again."  It appears that the Board--or, at least, the anti-diversity and Republican majority of the Board--are back to their same old tricks of secrecy, partisan politics, and disdain for public input.

As I stated in my original post, Wake County has a model of what an open and accountable redistricting process can look like.  One of the units within Wake County, the Town of Cary, has demonstrated what good redistricting should look like.  They began early (in February) with public meetings, and all of their official discussion have been in open meetings.  The town staff prepared 19 different map options, all of which were made available to the public with all the details.   The town welcomed, responded to, and/or incorporated public comments and issues.  They are close to deciding on a final map that everyone seems to think is fair and reasonable.

But what did the Board of Education do?  First, they paid an OPENLY PARTISAN Republican lawyer--one who had donated to the campaigns of the Republicans on the Board and even hosted a fundraiser for one of them--$10,000 to handle the redistricting.  This Republican Shanahan (a former Republican member of the Raleigh Town Council) then met IN SECRET with each of the Board members individually (so that they could subvert the open meetings requirement).

There was no official opportunity for the public to voice concerns about what should be in the maps since there were no public meetings beforehand.  However, the League of Women Voters of Wake County and the Great Schools in Wake Coalition collected all the data, produced some proposed redistricting maps that met the Board guidelines and good electoral map procedures, and held some public meetings to help educate the public about this issue.  They even revised their maps in response to concerns that were raised by the School Board.

Then on April 26, Shanahan produced a SINGLE map for our $10,000.  The public then had two weeks to respond to that map, which was finally discussed publicly on May 10.  However, even then the public wasn't given all the specifics about exact borders and such.  Shanahan's excuse for why he hadn't provided the exact data was that it would go against client-attorney confidentiality.

So even in the ONLY public comment meeting, the community was not given detailed information in order to comment effectively.  Also, two of the Republican Board members announced in advance that they wouldn't consider any revisions to the plan, regardless of what the public had to say during the meeting.  However, even without the specifics, several speakers questioned why the general guidelines broke up several municipalities and seemed to have much more tentacle-like boundaries than the ones produced by the League for Women Voters.

The detailed information was finally released at the end of last week AFTER the public comment meeting.  According to a News and Observer analysis and blog post, the Board's plan seems to be politically advantageous to the Republicans, since it moves several potential Democratic candidates out of Republican-held districts into competing against other Democratic candidates in Democratic districts, or moves some Democratic strong holds out of Democratic-held districts into Republican ones.

Despite all this, everyone thinks the plan is a done deal and will be approved by the Board on Tuesday, May 17.

I'm not surprised, but very disappointed by the Board's actions on this matter.  The Republicans may think that they have won.  However, it is one more reason for the accrediting agency to conclude that the public is not being served by its School Board and so to pull the Wake County School System accreditation.  And then it will be the children and families of Wake County who have lost--big time.

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