Citizens call for more school board districts in Forsyth

by Keith Barber

A proposed redistricting plan for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools includes moving precincts 507 and 605 from District 2 to District 1 — a shift of more than 13,000 voters — after the 2010 Census revealed a population increase in District 1 and a population decrease in District 2. (courtesy image)

A redistricting proposal for the Winston- Salem/Forsyth County Schools presented by school board attorney Ali Tomberlin at the board’s Nov. 8 meeting touched off a discussion regarding the creation of more voting districts in Forsyth County.

“The whole world is changing; it’s about time for this school board to change,” Stephen Hairston, former president of the Forsyth County NAACP, told the school board during the meeting.

Hairston pointed out the student population in Forsyth is made up of a majority of minorities and argued the school board does not reflect that diversity. Hairston said he would like to see District 1 be maintained as it is and asked the school board to add more voting districts to achieve better representation for all citizens.

Hairston was one of a number of citizens who spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. Nearly all speakers called for the creation of more voting districts in Forsyth.

The school board currently has nine members. Three of them are at-large members that are elected by the entire county, and are thus not included in redistricting ratios. District 1 has two members, and District 2 has four members. All members serve four-year terms that end in 2014.

District 1 sits in the center of the county and was created by the NC General Assembly in 1991, Tomberlin explained, so if the school board decided to create more districts, it would require the approval of the NC General Assembly.

State law mandates that local boards of education “shall revise electoral district boundaries from time to time” for the purpose of either accounting for annexed areas or to correct population imbalances among districts.

During her presentation, Tomberlin said the 2010 Census revealed that District 1 currently has one representative for every 51,944 people, while District 2 has one representative for every 61,695 people. Under her redistricting proposal, District 1 would add about 13,000 residents to reach a total population of 117,902, while the population of District 2 would be reduced by the same number to achieve a population of 232,768. The ideal ratio of one representative for every 58,445 residents would therefore be achieved by the new voting districts, Tomberlin said.

“If we kept our same districts as they are now, we would have 16.7 percent deviation from the one man, one vote standard under the Voting Rights Act,” Tomberlin said. She explained that 10 percent is the maximum deviation allowed by law, so redistricting is required.

Tomberlin’s proposal includes moving Precinct 507 at Sedge Garden Recreation Center and Precinct 605 at Parkland High School from District 2 into District 1, a shift of more than 13,000 voters. The plan would lower the current disparity between District 1 and District 2 of 16.7 percent to less than 1 percent to conform to the one man, one vote ideal.

Both precincts 507 and 605 have a majority of non-white voters, according to the Forsyth County Board of Elections. In precinct 507, Democrats comprise 51 percent of all registered voters, 27 percent are Republicans and 22 percent are unaffiliated. Fifty-two percent of all registered voters in precinct 605 are Democrats, 25 percent are Republicans and 23 percent are unaffiliated.

School board member Elisabeth Motsinger said the shift in precincts should not be based on past voting trends but a more accurate reflection of changes in the county’s population over the past decade.

“There are more Democrats moving into North Carolina and trying to pack them all into one district doesn’t reflect the trend,” Motsinger said.

Carissa Joines also spoke during the Nov. 8 meeting. A parent advocate with five children in the school system, Joines said a lot of parents feel that they don’t have representation on the school board. She suggested the school system go to a ward system similar to the Winston-Salem City Council because the needs of students vary widely from school to school. Also, the current system of two zones discourages people from running for school board, she added.

“Parents in some of these areas have expressed to me they feel they don’t have an opportunity to run for a seat on the school board because they’re going up against people who have held these seats for many years and have name recognition,” Joines said.

Joines requested that the school board hold public hearings on school redistricting before approving any plan. Motsinger also called for a public hearing at the board’s Nov. 22 meeting. However, the board did not approve holding a public hearing on school redistricting during the Nov. 8 meeting.

Board Chairman Donnie Lambeth addressed the suggestions made by citizens to create more school board districts in Forsyth “I think we need to separate the motions of people who don’t like the current voting districts because that’s not within our purview, and if they don’t like it, the place to deal with that is through the General Assembly,” said board chair Donnie Lambeth. “Our obligation is to balance the numbers between District 1 and District 2. Once we do that, we have fulfilled our obligation.”

Collins, a member of the redistricting committee, said the school board only has the power to redraw district lines that conform to the one man, one vote standards, which is not based on student population but the population of the entire community.

Board member Victor Johnson serves on the redistricting committee. He said his numberone priority is to ensure the black vote in District 1 is not diluted by any redistricting proposal.

“Blacks are never going to win in the atlarge races, but I’d like to see another seat for District 1 added,” Johnson said.

Johnson suggested taking one of the at-large seats and shifting it to District 1, while maintaining four seats from District 2.

The Hispanic student populations now comprises 19 percent of all students in the school system, Johnson said, and an additional seat in District 1 open the door for a Latino candidate to be elected to the school board.

Mary Dickinson, a retired teacher from the Forsyth County Schools and a member of the Hispanic League, said there has been a “huge change” in the county’s demographics since the district lines were last drawn nearly 20 years ago, and suggested more districts be created to better reflect the diversity of the community.

“More districts means more people are involved in the election,” Dickinson said. “More people will feel like it matters to their own neighborhood who’s on the school board because they will know their school board member. If we divide up the county into more districts, we will bring in more people of Hispanic origin and people of color.”

Susan Campbell, chair of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, also called for the creation of more voting districts.

“As it now stands, theoretically, we could have four members from District 2 and the three at-large members be elected from one area like Rural Hall and the result would be that Kernersville and Clemmons have no representation.”

Collins said the redistricting committee plans to look at Tomberlin’s proposal before its next meeting on Nov. 22 and may propose revisions or recommend the plan as it is to the full board during its Dec. 13 meeting.