July 16, 2014

Judge to rule in Union redistricting case next week

A judge in Union County will rule early next week on a parents group request to stop a controversial school redistricting plan.

A judge in Union County will rule early next week on a parents group request to stop a controversial school redistricting plan.

Judge Lucy Inman announced her plans Wednesday afternoon after a three-hour hearing on the parents’ motion for a preliminary injunction.

Redistricting is meant to alleviate overcrowding by sending several thousand students to less-crowded schools. The Union County school district has about 42,000 students.

Parents have objected to the disruption such change causes for their children, while also worrying they might face longer bus rides or go to schools with lower test scores. Others were concerned about what switching schools would do to property values in their communities.

George Sistrunk III, representing the parents group Citizens for Adequate Public Schools, said school leaders had a pattern of violating open-meeting laws while dealing with redistricting. He claimed that the school board improperly approved the plan in March after members read from a script that was drawn up in advance of the meeting.

“The process was designed to keep the public out,” Sistrunk said. “It was a sham vote because it was determined prior to the meeting.”

And in a court filing for the hearing, Sistrunk alleged that maps for redistricting had been illegally changed to exempt prominent individuals, land developers and influential churches. He did not name anyone in those groups but claimed that at least 180 residential and commercial properties were improperly exempted from the redistricting plan.

School district attorney Richard Schwartz denied that school officials did anything improper. He said the district held 16 public meetings on redistricting and scoffed at the parents’ claims of impropriety.

At one point, Inman said the number of public hearings for redistricting “sounds like open and honest government to me.”

But Sistrunk said the plan had been improperly changed after it was approved in March when the maps were changed.

Schwartz said the school board had given staff leeway to make minor adjustments to the maps, mainly to deal with transportation issues, and all of the changes only impacted 50 students.

As for the March vote, Schwartz said school board Chairman Richard Yercheck had asked the legal staff to draft a redistricting motion shortly before the meeting began because Yercheck felt there was a good chance a vote on the issue would come up.

“Everything has been open,” he said. Someone in the crowd of about 50 said, “Oh my God,” and was promptly shushed. Parents also snickered at some of Schwartz’s other statements.

Schwartz noted that school starts in less than five weeks for most students. “The school system would be thrown into chaos at this late date” if parents succeed in stopping redistricting, he said.

Sistrunk also complained that he received more than 100,000 pages of documents from the school district just days before Wednesday’s hearing. Schwartz said every document needed to be reviewed to ensure no confidential information was divulged.

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