Critics assail new Wake school board lines

Board majority defends districts

Staff writerMay 11, 2011 

— At Tuesday night's public hearing on proposed Wake County school board voting districts, almost every speaker had similar gripes, about boundary lines: They seem arbitrary and illogical, they said, and the school system's failure to be open about information such as exact split-precinct lines.

Several speakers at the lightly attended meeting had specific suggestions for ways to improve the maps, especially in District 5, which would stretch from neighborhoods near Cameron Village to Holly Springs under the proposal.

Jim Martin, a frequent critic of the board majority, objected to the new map's splitting parts of Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs into different board districts. He presented his own map that would not split up the towns, while also allowing District 5, which includes much of the inside-the-Beltline areas west of downtown Raleigh, to retain much of its current shape.

"We don't need an octopus stretching across southwestern Wake," said Martin, who is considering a run for the school board. "We need to respect the municipalities."

Every 10 years, the school board uses the latest census data to redraw election boundaries for the nine board seats. The boundaries are important because candidates can be voted on only by the people who live in their district.

The new maps will be put to use Oct. 11, when voters will decide on the five school board seats on the ballot.

This year's redistricting process is drawing more scrutiny than normal because of the controversy over the school board's change in student assignment policy since the 2009 elections.

The board could vote for the new districts as early as Tuesday.

Board member John Tedesco downplayed criticism, saying it's coming from the same people who regularly complain about the majority's actions. He pointed to the small turnout as an indication that most people are satisfied with the new maps.

Opponents of the maps expressed disappointment that Tedesco and Chris Malone have said that they had no intention of agreeing to changes. Tedesco and Malone are members of a five-member majority on the board who swept into power in 2009 elections on promises of being more responsive to the community and instituting neighborhood schools.

"I understand that the board stressed to the public that this was going to be an open process, but it has not been," Raleigh resident Mary Kelley said.

Law firm stands pat

The Wake County board hired Raleigh attorney Kieran Shanahan's firm to draw new districts, a process that is aimed at ensuring that some of the system's nine districts aren't much larger, or differ too drastically from others.

Shanahan's company has refused to release the "work material" and won't describe the exact lines along which precincts are being split.

"What in the world have we paid $10,000 for?" said speaker Susan Evans of Apex. "This is taxpayer money."

Democratic board member Keith Sutton supports public release of the data.

"It's public information," Sutton said.

Shanahan would not comment this week, but previously said his refusal to release exact boundary lines rests on attorney-client privilege.

Margiotta said board members were not provided with the level of boundary details requested by members of the public. But he said Tuesday that he would have no problem with releasing the information as long as there were no legal restrictions against doing so. or 919-829-8929

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