School board reaffirms redistricting decision

Jul. 10, 2014 @ 04:46 PM

The Union County Board of Education reaffirmed their redistricting plan Tuesday night and passed a resolution that addressed the changes to the redistricting lines brought up by Citizens for Adequate Public Schools (CAPS). 

Prior to the resolution, Superintendent Mary Ellis explained that in February, the school board instructed staff to clean up some of the redistricting lines, which at the time only impacted a few students. Ellis, at the meeting, referred to them as the “Onesy-twosys.” She said that there has been some question of impropriety about the changes and asked Deputy

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Superintendent of Instructional Technology and Operations Mike Webb to go through the maps during the meeting. 

Webb went through the maps on Wolf Pond Road, Willoughby Road, Venus Street and Huntington Drive. He said that “cleaning up” those lines impact nine students. 

An additional 41 students were impacted by the board’s amendment to keep the Millbridge neighborhood together should a residential road be completed. Webb said the road is on track to be completed. 

Webb explained why the lines were redrawn in each case, either for efficiency or in the case of Willoughby Road, due to a misunderstanding about which houses were in each neighborhood. 

“What about our kids,” one parent said when Webb finished his presentation. 

The board also passed a resolution Tuesday night, reaffirming the redistricting plan that passed in March, “subject to the minor adjustments recommended and approved by its administrative staff.” 

The resolution passed 7-2 with Board member Sherry Hodges and Vice Chair Marce Savage voting in opposition. 

Board member Jim Bention, Sr. read the resolution. While reading, a member of the crowd interjected and he was escorted from the room. Bention was not on the board in March when the controversial redistricting plan was approved. 

The resolution addresses the growth Union County saw over the past 15 years and that “substantial” school construction has not kept pace with the student growth or the location of the growth, “resulting in severe overcapacity issues in a number of schools.” 

The resolution goes on to say that the school board and school administrators “devoted a great amount of time” to consideration of redistricting and other options, with overcrowding or redistricting being discussed at at least 16 public meetings or work sessions from March of 2013 through March 2014. It also said that the meetings were publicly noticed and “very well attended” by members of the public and involved public comments and hearings. 

According to the resolution, the school board, by consensus, directed staff to clean up boundary lines to avoid leaving isolated islands of transportation, based on bus routes, roads and housing patterns, that would result in inefficiencies and leave islands of students to be transported at a Feb. 18 meeting. 

The resolution also said it was “always the expectation” of the school board that the staff would have latitude to make minor adjustments to the school attendance lines, to preserve small neighborhood groups and to prevent inefficiencies. The resolution cited school policy 4-13, which deals with reassignment and states that with the approval of the school board and proper public notice, the superintendent can adjust school attendance lines. 

Board Attorney Richard Schwartz said after the meeting that the change was a minor twerk, all done for efficiency. He said that after the resolution tonight, any question about it has been resolved. 

“Now there should be no question whatsoever,” Schwartz said. He noted that maps can be changed. 

Schwartz denied a lack of transparency in the process, saying it has been “about as open and transparent as you can get.” 

When asked about the injunction filed earlier this week, he said it was not really anything he thought should be of concern to the school board. 

He said the merits of the CAPS lawsuit will be up to a judge to decide, but noted that while the lawsuit has been couched in many different ways, the goal all along has been to stop redistricting. 

“You can’t have redistricting without some people getting changed,” he said. 

The parent groups CAPS released a statement Wednesday in response to the Tuesday night vote, calling it “an amazing display of hubris” on the part of the school board. 

“CAPS wants to be very clear, the UCBOE (again reading from a script) were caught red handed and through this action, admitted their guilt, as they tried to incorporate new boundary lines that were decided without proper public notice,” the statement read. “If the BOE felt these changes were simply to ‘clean up’ boundary lines, then why would a full re-vote (or reaffirming) be necessary?”

The statement said that the resolution will have no impact on their preliminary injunction hearing. The hearing date is currently set for Wednesday, July 16 at 2 p.m., though the time and date are subject to change.