Wake County school board members warned Tuesday that the state’s new election maps going into effect this year will make it harder for families to know who will represent them on the panel.
In 2013, the General Assembly rewrote the boundaries and method by which Wake County school board members are elected. The new maps changed two of the nine existing board seats into regional districts, each of which represent half the county. Their boundaries, which will also be used now for the Wake County Board of Commissioners, were also changed for the remaining seven seats.
The new lines, whose constitutionality was upheld Friday by U.S. Chief District Court Judge James C. Dever III, will be used in November when all nine school board seats are on the ballot. The new lines don’t produce districts as compact or as contiguous as the old ones. That means an increase in the number of neighborhoods that have their elementary, middle and high school located in different districts.
For instance, families in some Raleigh neighborhoods attend Lacy Elementary, Daniels Middle and Broughton High. The new maps put the schools into three different board districts.
“It’s very apparent that most parents don’t have a clue as to what’s about to hit in terms of the new districts,” said school board member Kevin Hill.
But in his ruling, Dever said that plaintiffs had failed to prove that that the new maps don’t improve school board representation. The school board wasn’t a plaintiff in the lawsuit but some school board members testified on behalf of the groups trying to get the new lines declared unconstitutional.
Republican lawmakers said in 2013 that allowing individual voters to pick two seats – their regional member and the district they live in – would improve the chances of parents having a board member who represents where their children go to school. Previously, individual voters only decided on one seat.
“The court finds that the 2013 Wake County School Board Plan is rationally related to improving school board representation,” Dever wrote.
But on Tuesday, school board members questioned the rationality behind the new lines. School board member Bill Fletcher said it’s “really curious” how Mills Park Elementary in western Cary is in the same regional district as Zebulon Elementary School.
“They don’t have the same kinds of needs,” Fletcher said. “They are very dissimilar in terms of their population served and the challenges that each of those schools faces.”
An immediate concern for Wake is the impact that the new lines will have on the advisory council that each board member relies on for advice. Board members said the councils allow them to build closer relationships with their schools and with parents.
Board members said they didn’t like how the state’s new lines split up the 176 schools. For instance, school board member Jim Martin said 11 of the 26 schools in his new district are located on its borders.
Board members asked staff to develop their own list of schools that would make up each board advisory council starting in July. The new councils mean that parents could have children going to schools that are represented by a different advisory council from the board seats they’re voting on.
“Well I’m just afraid that when you remove local issues away from local control, how many people making that decision even knew that we had BACs and what their purposes are?” said school board Chairman Tom Benton.
Start times changes proposed for 6 schools
Wake County school administrators recommended Tuesday that six schools see different start and dismissal times for the 2016-17 school year.
Green Elementary and Lufkin Road and Wendell middle schools could start classes 45 minutes later this fall. Knightdale High School could begin 40 minutes earlier.
Enloe High School and Fuquay-Varina Elementary School could begin five minutes later.
Parents can submit feedback at https://wcpss.granicusideas.com/discussions/school-bell-schedules on the changes. The school board is scheduled to approve bell schedules on March 15.