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Washington County Board of Education disputes new boundary lines

This image shows the differences in the two maps. The one on the left is the current, while the one on the right side was passed on June 2 and is waiting the Washington County Commissions approval.
This image shows the differences in the two maps. The one on the left is the current, while the one on the right side was passed on June 2 and is waiting the Washington County Commissions approval.

By COLLIN BROOKS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Towards the end of the Washington County Board of Education meeting in August, some board members voiced their displeasure with the new school district lines that were approved by the Reapportionment Committee on June 2.

New BOE Chairman Jack Leonard said during the meeting that the new map makes representation on the board disproportionate.

“The lines and the way they have been drawn, it does make the school system top heavy,” Leonard said. “It gives the northern part of the county six members and it gives the southern part three and it would make a huge shift on the board.”

Board member Phillip McLain, who isn’t a proponent of the commission shrinking from 25 to 15 members — and ultimately forced  these changes — said that he did not understand why the commission was changing between census counts.

“It’s my understanding that there is no need to change it between census reports,” said McLain, who noted that he read the 212-page Comptroller’s report on the issue.  “But it just seems like a very exaggerated adjustment to the school board.”

Redistricting isn’t suppose to occur in a county before a 10-year census gap following the publication of the population summaries which result in the new census counts. However, the county commission has decided to downsize its number from 25 commissioners to 15 before that census will be taken, and in doing that, they have also moved the lines for the school board and the constables.

In order to do that, the law states that they must significantly improve the deviation, which is defined as a percentage indicating the difference in the ideal population from a district’s actual population.

The committee improved the deviation from 8.18 percent to .30 percent for the school board. That is the reason that Washington County Attorney Tom Seeley said that he feels comfortable with the change.

“The caveat is that you don’t do it unless you improve the deviation,” he said to the board. “I can’t remember the exact figures but there was a significant improvement in the deviation so that again, it was much closer to having one person, one vote with all the votes being equal across the district. So the key was to improve that deviation.”

With that explanation there was still some unhappiness that the board wasn’t included in making the changes, as board member David Hammond said they had been during the 2011 changes resulting from the 2010 census.

McLain agreed, saying that board members received a letter announcing each meeting time.

Reapportionment Committee Chairman Joe Grandy concedes that the county board of education didn’t have much input and said that any unhappy board members will have a chance to voice their opinions during the commission meeting in October, after he moved the item from the September meeting agenda because of a schedule conflict for the board members.

“There probably is something that we could have done to engage them more,” Grandy said. “But my feeling is that once we got to the third meeting, they have all be publicized and they’ve been reported on, so I guess I thought it was hard to imagine that they didn’t know we were working on it.

“But I will take the blame for not reaching out to them individually or as a group. I didn’t do that and in retrospect maybe I should have.”

He said they are encouraged to attend the October commission meeting and share their concerns.

“That will give them a chance to say what they have to say,” Grandy said “And if it is deemed necessary, then the commission can send it back to the committee for additional work, if that is what is needed.”

The biggest deal with the change, according to Grandy, was matching up the school board lines to the county commissions lines, so that the deviation would improve and it would give the election commission a chance to use the same polling places. It also reworks the system so that there are five commission districts in each of the three school districts.

But Leonard said not being involved left a bad taste in some of the member’s mouths.

“It just seems like this has been done without us being informed of it,” Leonard said.

The second district was the most recent to be voted on, as McLain, Todd Ganger and Mary Beth Dillinger all won during the elections in August.