Anger over school board redistricting erupts in email battle

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Anger over school board redistricting erupts in email battle


By RACHEL HEATON
rheaton@beaufortgazette.com
843-706-8177
Published Friday, August 26, 2011   |  894 Words  |  

A Beaufort County Board of Education member has accused the County Council of dismantling minority representation on the school board with its redistricting plan.

Some County Council members are firing back, saying they are offended at the suggestion of "racial politics" and that the board member, Steven Morello, should resign.

The email exchange between Morello and council members Stu Rodman and Rick Caporale comes after the council advanced a redistricting plan earlier this week that will bring drastic changes to the school board.

If the plan is adopted, 10 of the board's 11 seats will be contested next year, and eight incumbents will be paired in four districts. By comparison, only two incumbent council members would face each other in 2012, while the other nine incumbents remain in their current districts.

Morello said in emails he was upset that five of six black school board members and two of three black council members will face reelection before their terms end.

"That's a staggering number, a complete upheaval of minority representation," Morello said in an interview. "You can't just chop off the school board's head like that. And you can't kick all the black people off, too."

Morello, who is white, also has expressed frustration that so many school board members would have to run for reelection.

Both Caporale and Rodman, who are white, say Morello's emails are too little, too late. Morello and school board member Ronald Speaks were co-chairs of a committee appointed by board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. to represent the board in the redistricting process.

But that committee never met.

"This is typical school board behavior. The committee never met," Caporale said in an interview. "They wait until we are approaching -- well, isn't this the 11th hour? So now they're going to voice their dissatisfaction?"

Morello has said he chose to stay out of the redistricting process because he "did not want to engage in another contentious issue that pitted the County Council against the School Board."

Caporale and Rodman, both former school board members, called for Morello's resignation.

"I think it's probably time for people in District 1 to start looking for other folks to go out there and run for office who are more committed to building bridges, rather than burning them," Caporale said.

Morello said he won't resign.

Rodman called the introduction of "racial politics" offensive and noted three black school members -- Laura Bush, Washington and Speaks -- have won seats in white majority districts.

The proposed map eliminates one of three traditionally black majority districts. But Bobby Bowers, the director of the S.C. Office of Research and Statistics who helped the county with redistricting, said that couldn't have been avoided because 2010 Census data showed the county's minority population had decreased. Bowers said that had all three black-majority districts been retained, the minority population in each district would have dropped to 35 or 40 percent. That would have been too weak, putting the plan at risk of losing the U.S. Department of Justice's approval, Bowers said.

Other school board members have expressed concerns about the proposed district lines, too.

"You're talking about 10 board members that have to run," said school board member Earl Campbell, who is black. "And only two council members -- and both of them are black. Something is wrong."

But school board chairman Washington said he's more concerned that districts are diverse.

"Does a 51 percent minority-majority district assure the election of a minority?" he said. "Does a 60-40 majority assure the election of a majority? In the district that I presently represent, I'm the minority. But I want to be in a position where I can address all the issues in my community and represent a broad base of people."

Washington has said he plans to discuss the proposal with his board Sept. 6 and respond to County Council by Sept. 12, when the final vote on the redistricting plan is scheduled. Any changes to the plan would require two more readings before it is sent to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

Related content

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