WPSB reviews district maps | Population growth seen in districts 2 and 3

Published 9:29 am Friday, August 24, 2012

The members of the Washington Parish School Board got a preliminary look at several redistricting options during a special meeting held Monday night.

Explaining the process, board attorney Wayne Kuhn said all public bodies are required to undergo redistricting or reapportionment every 10 years, after each new census. Based on “location and population in the various districts,” the purpose of redistricting is to ensure fair representation throughout all districts, he said. The population variation in the districts from the time of the last census should not be more or less than 5 percent, he said.

State law mandates that all school boards “submit their resolution approving the redistricting or reapportionment before Dec. 31 of the second year following the census,” meaning that the plan will be due to secretary of state by Dec. 31, 2012, Kuhn said. Another consideration, he said, is that Louisiana is one of states subject to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Therefore, the school board will first have to submit its plan to the Justice Department, which will have 60 days to either approve or reject the plan.

Public input is also an important part of the process, Kuhn said, so voters are encouraged to attend the redistricting meetings and provide their thoughts on the various plans. The redistricting will affect voting districts, but not student attendance zones.

As Buddy Jenkins — the consultant who has been selected as the board’s consultant and is providing his expertise free of charge (except for out-of-pocket expenses) — was unable to attend the meeting, the board members did not hear a formal presentation on redistricting. However, they did get a first look at some of the population data and the maps of what their individual districts would look like under the three plans that Jenkins has developed: A, B and C.

Board Vice President Matthey Tate, of District 8, filled the board in on another aspect of redistricting that must be completed before the selected plan can be submitted: the creation of a written geographical description of each district, detailing the boundaries using existing landmarks.

“Then we’ll come back and vote on the total package,” he said. “At that time, when we get all of those elements in place, we will submit it to the Justice Department.”

Kuhn said that the census numbers put two districts “outside the plus or minus 5 percent variation.” Seeing large population growth were District 2, represented by board member John Wyble, and District 3, represented by board member Rev. Bruce L. Brown Sr.

Wyble’s Franklinton-area district saw a total gain of 57.43 percent, with the population increasing from roughly 2,700 to 4,300. Brown’s district, which is in the Hackley/Thomas community, saw a 9.67 percent growth, with the population changing from about 2,900 to almost 3,200, Superintendent Darrell Fairburn said.

Of the three options, Brown stated a preference for plan C, since it would keep Thomas Elementary School in District 3 and would, thus, be the closest to retaining the existing boundaries.

Based on his initial look at the three plans, Wyble also said that option C might be the best way to go. It would shift the majority of the additional population from his district into board member Dewitt Perry’s District 6. Most of the students in that district attend Enon Elementary School, which feeds into the Franklinton schools for the later grades.

“I do think that matters,” Wyble said.

Continuing, he said, “We ask voters and parents to get involved, go to the polls, make decisions about their local schools,” and they should be voting in a district where their child attends school.

“I understand exactly what Dr. Wyble is talking about,” added board member Dan Slocum, of District 1. “The Mt. Hermon school district encompasses about half of the ninth ward, and for many years, those folks in that portion of the ninth ward did not vote for representation where their child attended school. So it’s an issue both ways.”

Perry raised several concerns, including that the redistricting plans have some residents of Bogalusa’s 4th Ward voting in the Washington Parish district. He also said he would like to see district lines follow natural boundaries such as the river or Louisiana Highway 25.

“Out of these three, I’d have to say that the one I’d most likely lean to is probably A, because it follows truer boundaries,” he said.

The board scheduled a special meeting about redistricting for Monday, Sept. 17, to take place in the Media Center at 6 p.m. At that time, the board will hear a presentation from Jenkins, review maps, discuss the plans and accept public input.