Wake school board likely to OK districts

The school board is expected to approve redrawn voting boundaries Tuesday.

Staff WriterMay 16, 2011 

  • The Wake County school board is scheduled to discuss redistricting during a work session that begins at 2 p.m. Tuesday at 3600 Wake Forest Road in Raleigh. The board is scheduled to approve the new maps at a meeting that begins at 4:30 pm.

— The direction of the Wake County school system could be decided Tuesday, when the school board is scheduled to vote on revised school board districts.

The new maps will decide both who runs for the nine-seat school board this year and which voters will be able to decide those races.

The new boundaries will be put to use Oct. 11, when five board seats are on the ballot. The election will determine whether the state's largest school district continues in the direction toward neighborhood schools, or moves back toward the use of socioeconomic diversity in student assignment.

Every 10 years, the board uses census data to draw election boundaries. It's an effort to balance populations in the nine districts. The boundaries are important because candidates can be voted on only by the people who live in their district.

In a change from previous redistricting processes, the board did not hire law firm Tharrington Smith to draw up the new boundaries. The Republican-majority board instead hired Kieran Shanahan's firm to do the work. Shanahan is a prominent GOP lawyer and former Raleigh City Council member.

Republican school board members have praised Shanahan's maps as being fair with no attempt at gerrymandering.

Wake County Democratic leaders, however, say the maps are politically motivated, pointing to how the district now held by school board member Anne McLaurin will lose some Raleigh neighborhoods west of downtown but will pick up areas as far south as Holly Springs.

The Great Schools in Wake Coalition, which supports the old diversity policy, has criticized the district for not providing until late last week details about the boundary lines. They've also questioned the changes to McLaurin's district, and how the maps split several smaller towns into multiple board districts.

Knightdale community leaders have been particularly upset that the plan would divide the town into three board districts They've lobbied the board to change the plan, fearing the town's influence will be diluted.

The maps are being watched also by possible school board candidates for this fall.

The plan would keep Heather Losurdo in District 3 with Democratic incumbent Kevin Hill, who is running for re-election. The new maps keep Losurdo, who is backed by most of the GOP school board members, on the border of Hill's district.

The plan could affect whether McLaurin decides to seek re-election. She has said she is leaning toward running again, but the new boundary lines would force her to campaign in areas outside Raleigh, where she isn't as familiar to voters.

The new maps also will affect whether Raleigh lawyer Neil Riemann, a supporter of the diversity policy, runs for the board. The proposal moves Riemann's election precinct out of McLaurin's district and into District 6. Democratic school board member Carolyn Morrison hasn't announced whether she'll run in District 6.

The change for Riemann could affect a possible bid in District 6 by Anne Sherron, a Republican real estate agent who supports the diversity policy and is an ally of Morrison.

The plan also moves N.C. State University professor Jim Martin, a supporter of the diversity policy, who has been weighing whether to run in District 8 against Republican board Chairman Ron Margiotta. The new maps move Martin into McLaurin's district.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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