Wake County school board member Anne McLaurin wants to see what lessons future boards can learn from this year's redistricting process.
At Tuesday's school board meeting, McLaurin submitted this list of draft recommendations that the school board might use in 2021 the next time districts are revised. While the Republican school board members were more skeptical than the Democrats, they all agreed to have McLaurin continue working on her suggestions.
One recommendation that drew discussion was the one saying that if a law firm is hired for restricting it should be a non-partisan firm.
The hiring of Republican attorney Kieran Shanahan's law firm to do the work ruffled some Democratic feathers.
"This isn’t to suggest that I think that anybody did anything that was particularly partisan," McLaurin said. "But I think if you’re on the other side it often feels that way and there are plenty of firms that are not partisan that could have done something like that."
School board chairman Ron Margiotta quipped that he had never met a law firm that wasn't partisan. McLaurin responded that some law firms are "historically more partisan than others."
McLaurin added that there might be law firms without that "badge" of partisanship who could do a good job with redistricting.
This came after McLaurin's recommendation number two in which she suggested that staff should develop the new districts as a way to save money. She pointed to how some of the local towns are using their staff and not an outside attorney for redistricting.
Recommendation number 4 says several plans should be presented to the school board. This came after Democrats complained Shanahan only brought one plan. McLaurin said there could have been other plans presented that met their needs that would have been good.
Margiotta said the small-group meetings that the board members had with Shanahan's law firm and election map consultant resulted in adjustments being made. He said it was almost as if other plans were considered.
McLaurin countered that those meetings weren't done with the whole board at once.
On recommendation five, McLaurin said all the meetings should be done in public with all the board members included. McLaurin was the only board member who chose not to participate in the small-group meetings.
Margiotta noted how the board has met in small groups for issues such as presentations on the budget and student assignment.
"This is a once in a decade decision that is one of the most important we make," McLaurin responded.
Margiotta countered that every decision they make is important.
Margiotta also said that “quite frankly we did an excellent job” with redistricting. McLaurin said her recommendations didn't say that they hadn't done an excellent job.
McLaurin focused on how rare redistricting takes place.
"This is a draft," McLaurin said. "This is something that might be helpful because this is every 10 years."
Margiotta suggested rewording the draft to say considerations instead of recommendations.
School board member Deborah Prickett questioned the need for the recommendations. She pointed to how everything that was done was in the board minutes.
McLaurin responded that when they looked in the minutes for the 2001 redistricting process they didn't find much information.
School board member Kevin Hill added that you won't see of lot discussion about this year's plan in the minutes either.
Hill said that he felt there was no thorough discussion about the redistricting plan by the entire board, He said the board discussion was just about why there was only one plan.
Hill said the lack of discussion about the plan is "what I regret most." But he added he wasn't saying it was a good or bad plan.
McLaurin again brought up how they could learn from the process.
"Every time you do something you want to figure out if you can do it better the next time," McLaurin said. "Ten years from now is anybody going to be paying attention? I don’t know.”
School board vice chairman John Tedesco said he disagreed with Hill about there not having been detailed discussion about the plan. He said he had discussed with attorneys about preserving District 4 as a majority-minorit district and about maintaining the racial balance in the other districts.
At this point, McLaurin said that she'd stop work on the list if the other board members decided it wasn't worth anymore time.
Margiotta responded that it makes sense to reflect on what they did but he disagrees with dictating to future boards. He again defended the process used.
“Quite frankly, I think the process went well," Margiotta said. "I think the end result was a good one.”
School board member Keith Sutton echoed McLaurin's earlier points. He said what McLaurin was doing was a helpful exercise considering redistricting is only done every decade.
Sutton pointed to the limited information when looking up the board's past record on redistricting. He said they're not making dictates about what to do but can provide a record for future boards.
Sutton also pointed to the multiple public hearings the General Assembly is holding on redistricting.
“If we reflect on results, and I don’t want to prejudge what’s gong to come out of the General Assembly, but I would think the results we achieved are a heck of a lot better than what will come out of the General Assembly,” Margiotta replied. “Please don’t quote me on that.”
McLaurin will revise the list and present it back to the board later.