None of the speakers had good things to say Tuesday about the proposed Wake County school board redistricting maps.
As noted in today's article, most of the speakers were critics of the board majority who questioned both the way the new maps were developed and the boundary lines used. Another gripe was about school board members Chris Malone and John Tedesco saying ahead of time they wouldn't support making revisions to the maps.
Jim Martin kicked things off with questions about the changes, particularly in southwestern Wake. He said that area has been "a pawn in annexation discussions" and other issues.
Martin compared the new boundaries to tentacles reaching out across southwestern Wake
Martin questioned the decision to split Precinct 20-02 between Districts 7 and 8, creating a small triangle-like area in District 7. He said this further splits apart Cary instead of respecting efforts to maintain municipal boundaries in the districts.
(School board member John Tedesco attributed the 20-02 triangle that has Panther Creek High in District 7 to an effort to give each school board district two high schools.)
In addition to splitting precincts, Martin also questioned splitting Holly Springs and Fuquay-Varina between districts.
He presented this proposed map (which I'll post later today) that he said would maintain municipalities and precincts. For instance, he said 20-02 could stay in Cary in District 9.
Martin's map also has areas going to Athens Drive High in District 5 instead of District 8.
“You don’t have to have an octopus and we are responsible to southwestern wake instead of using them as a pawn as has been done so many times in the past," Martin said.
Martin said after the meeting that he's waiting for the final boundaries to be set before deciding if he'll run for school board. The proposed map moves his precinct, 06-07, from District 8 to District 5.
While Martin didn't specifically bring up 06-07 in his speech, Patty Williams of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition did. She questioned why 06-07 would be moved to a District that's currently called South Central Raleigh.
Williams, who said she supported Martin's map, also advocated putting precincts 18-03, 18-05 and 18-08 in District 5 because they go to Athens Drive High She said that it would make District 5 more compact and that board member Anne McLaurin “serves very effectively” the Athens Drive community.
She criticized Malone and Tedesco for saying they wouldn't support revisions
She also questioned the lack of transparency by attorney Kieran Shanahan, who has refused to provide details to the public such as the exact boundary lines of the split precincts and the demographics of the districts. He's calling it protected work product under attorney-client privilege that can only be released by the board.
“What we’ve been asking for all along is full disclosure of the details behind the plan and a process that is fair and transparent," William said "We could have had valuable give-and-take discussion about the plan tonight. Instead what we’ve had another reminder that public opinion counts for little despite the fact that we live in a democracy where debating issues used to be a way of life.”
After the hearing, Margiotta said he only has as much information on the maps as has been publicly released. He said he wouldn't be opposed to releasing the info requested as long as their legal staff doesn't object.
Betty Ellerbee of the League of Women Voters of Wake County noted how they had revised their draft map in response to concerns that Margiotta had raised about them during an open house he attended.
“If our small task force can produce a second version in response to suggestions and if the Town of Cary’s Planning Department can produce 19 versions of a redistricting plan, why can’t we expect the Shanahan Law Group to respond to suggestions tonight and address some of these concerns?” Ellerbee said.
Jennifer Mansfield was one of the two supporters of the board majority who spoke Tuesday. She questioned efforts to keep precincts within 1 percent of each other because she said it doesn't allow for the growth that will come in the next decade. She siad it will result in some districts being grossly underrepresented.
Shanahan has said they tried to keep the population variance so low because it's uncertain how much variance the U.S. Supreme Court will now allow in election districts.
Mary Kelley said she came to talk about the process and not the specifics of the redistricting plan.
“The board stressed to the public that they wanted this to be a transparent process. But it has not," Kelley said.
Kelley focused on the lack of data released by Shanahan. She said that should have been provided considering he's being paid with public dollars.
Greg Flynn compared the proposed elongated boundary for District 5 with the character of Nemo from the movie "Finding Nemo." He says the district needs to be made more compact.
Flynn also wanted Shanahan to release more data and for the districts to better reflect the demographics of the school district, which is now majority minority even though the overall county population is majority white.
Chris Fulmer, a supporter of the board majority, said the current map is a reflection of the 1982 General Assembly compromise to preserve half the power between Inside the Beltline and outside the Beltline by having four ITB school board seats.
"That compromise is 30 years old and doesn’t apply any more," Fulmer said.
With the county seeing much more population growth than ITB, Fulmer said that District 5 should now solely be a suburban district. He got considerably less applause than the other speakers.
Susan Evans opened by criticizing Tedesco and Malone's comments in Tuesday's article.
"This could have been an opportunity for the community to collaborate but as usual you come to the table close minded," Evans said to the board.
Evans, who lives in District 8, said the district has been "haphazardly restructured." She questioned why 06-07 was put in District 5 and why 12-09 was moved from District 2 to District 8. She also questioned the 20-02 triangle in District 7
“It does make me wonder what in the world have we paid $10,000 for because we surely don’t have much data," Evans said "I’d like to see better than this. I’m very insulted. I want to learn some more details. We learned a long time ago if something smells like a skunk there’s probably one close by.”
Barbara Garlock complained that the online comment option limits you to 1,000 words and doesn't allow you to post attachments.
After the meeting, Tedesco defended his prior statements. He reiterated that the maps were very fair and to change them now would be a case of "gerrymandering."
Tedesco also said that the low turnout Tuesday indicated most people are okay with the new maps as he pointed to how most of the speakers were the same ones who attend board meetings to criticize the majority.
Margiotta also said after the hearing that it would be hard to make any changes because of the domino effects it would create.
Click here to view the proposed map from Jim Martin