Union school board defends revisions to redistricting maps

07/09/2014 9:42 AM

07/09/2014 12:00 PM

Union County school officials on Wednesday defended their revisions to maps used in redistricting and dismissed claims by parents that the changes were improper.

On Tuesday, parents suing to stop redistricting claimed that after redistricting was approved in March, the maps were illegally redrawn to exempt “prominent individuals, land developers and influential churches.” They did not identify those groups.

School board attorney Richard Schwartz called those claims “utter nonsense, pure speculation and wrong.” He said property values and land ownership are not factors considered in redistricting.

Redistricting is meant to handle overcrowding by moving several thousand students into less crowded schools. The maps detail which areas correspond to school attendance zones for the district’s 42,000 students.

On Tuesday night, the school board voted 7-2 on a resolution making “minor adjustments” to the maps that preserved small neighborhood groups or prevented inefficient bus routes. The changes affected 50 students.

In the resolution, the board also reaffirmed its commitment to the controversial redistricting plan, and said the maps and their adjustments represented the final approved redistricting plan for the upcoming school year.

The staff presentation at the meeting detailing the changes was in response to the parents’ claims, board Chairman Richard Yercheck said. “There were folks who thought there was something nefarious going on,” he said.

Yercheck denied that anything improper happened. He said the board had previously directed staff to make routine map revisions as needed, just as they had in previous redistrictings.

Board members Marce Savage and Sherry Hodges were the no votes at the meeting. Savage, the vice chair, said staff and board members were caught off guard by the parents’ accusations.

The resolution was not on the board’s agenda for the Tuesday session, but was added at the meeting. At least one parent was escorted from the meeting, and Savage said several people made comments or snickered during the redistricting discussion.

“That tension was back in the air,” Savage said.

When the board approved redistricting on March 4, raucous parents booed, yelled, sobbed or were escorted out of the meeting. The agenda that night did not indicate a final vote would take place, but said there would be “discussion of options to alleviate overcrowding.”

Parents objected to the disruption their children would face by switching schools. Others worried about property values dropping based on new school boundaries.

In a statement Wednesday, the parents group Citizens for Adequate Public Schools called the Tuesday vote “an amazing display of hubris. … If the BOE felt these changes were simply to ‘clean up’ boundary lines, then why would a full re-vote (or reaffirming) be necessary?”

When asked for comment, Schwartz said, “I’m not going to respond to that nonsense.”

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