School board members lose out in county redistricting plan

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School board members lose out in county redistricting plan

By RACHEL HEATON
rheaton@beaufortgazette.com
843-706-8177
Published Wednesday, August 24, 2011   |  973 Words  |  

Drastic changes could be in store for the Beaufort County school board after next year's elections under a proposed redistricting plan tentatively approved by County Council.

The plan, which advanced Monday after the second of three required readings, would bring the following changes to the school board:

  • Ten of the 11 incumbents would face election next year. That's despite the fact that only four incumbents' terms end in 2012. The rest would have ended in 2014. Bill Evans is the only member whose term would still end in 2014.
  • Eight school board members are paired in four districts, meaning at least four incumbents could not return to the board after the 2012 elections.
  • There are four districts in which no incumbent school board members live.
  • One school board member, whose term ends in 2014, was carved out of his district and would have to run for re-election next year to keep his seat.
  • In contrast, only two incumbent County Council members, Herbert Glaze and Gerald Dawson, were paired in the same district, and the remaining 10 districts were carved to keep one incumbent per district.

    Some school board members say that isn't fair and are questioning the logic of creating such an upheaval on their board.

    "I'm not saying that the council people went out with a hatchet deliberately trying to maneuver us into the same district," school board member Wayne Carbiener said. "However, they seemed careful not to maneuver themselves that way."

    County Council members say they heard little from school board members during the map-drawing process, despite attempts to include them.

    Councilman Brian Flewelling, a member of the redistricting committee, said the school board chairman was the only board member he saw at the public hearings, which began in May.

    "Council districts are a higher priority," Flewelling said. "Since we're the ones that draw the map, we're the ones who get to decide if we're going to have two council members run against each other. That's just reality."

    INCUMBENCY'S ROLE

    Redistricting is required every 10 years after the U.S. Census. County Council and school board districts follow the same geographic configurations, and it is the council's responsibility to draw the district lines. After council approval, the plan goes to the U.S. Justice Department for final consideration.

    Weston Newton, council chairman, said protecting incumbents was not the focus of the redistricting committee, which he chaired.

    Newton said the legal requirements of redistricting -- such as the districts be compact, protect minorities and follow population shifts -- were more important.

    "Concern about incumbency takes a back seat," he said.

    School board vice chairman George Wilson, however, believes incumbency did play a role, just not for the Board of Education.

    "What I find somewhat disturbing is that they made it where eight school board members have to run against each other, but with County Council it's only two," Wilson said. "Of course, if we were putting it together, we probably wouldn't care too much about the County Council."

    BOARD MEMBERS STAYED SILENT

    About three months ago, school board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. formed a seven-member committee to be involved in the redistricting process.

    Washington said he had hoped the committee would have been more vocal.

    Board members Steven Morello and Ronald Speaks are the chairmen of that committee. Morello said he never met with the group. Attempts to reach Speaks were unsuccessful.

    "I stayed out of it," Morello said. "I look at it as something that's out of my control, and I thought that any involvement would make the situation worse."

    Some other school board members said their hands were all but tied in the process.

    "We knew it was coming, but there's not too much we can do," board member Earl Campbell said. "We don't draw the lines, they do."

    Washington said he plans to discuss the proposed maps with his board Sept. 6 and send a response to County Council by Sept. 12, when the final vote is scheduled.

    Newton wouldn't speculate on whether plan would be changed.

    "The committee has done an awful lot of work," he said. "We have collectively concluded that based on the legal requirements and criteria adopted at the outset that this is the redistricting plan we recommend."

    The plan won unanimous approval Monday, and any changes to it would require two more readings.

    That leaves some school board members pessimistic at their chances for changing it.

    "We may have to deal with the hand we've been dealt," Wilson said.

    Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

    Related content

    1. Agreement forming on new County Council and Board of Education districts; Aug. 18, 2011
    2. County inches forward on Board of Education redistricting; Aug. 3, 2011
    3. Residents influence local redistricting process; June 16, 2011
    4. County Council hears feedback on new district proposals; May 24, 2011
    5. County Council panel begins redistricting work; May 13, 2011