School board looks at redistricting

Published 10:14 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some people in Escambia County may find themselves in a new school board district in the coming months. Due to statistical changes found as a result of the 2010 Census, Escambia County School Board officials are faced with being required to draw new district lines in some areas that have seen growth or reductions in residents in certain areas.

Attorneys Kirk Garrett and Broox Garrett addressed school board members last week to explain the areas that would require a re-drawing of the district lines.

“We have six months to come up with revised district outlines,” Kirk Garrett told the board. “We have a procedure to follow to present a plan to the Department of Justice for approval.”

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Kirk Garrett told board members approval of the criteria to be followed in the redistricting plan needs to be approved to move forward with the task.

“We need to come up with criteria for the board to use to resolve any conflicts in coming up with a map of each district,” Kirk Garrett said. “We will have to have public meetings to let the public have input in this. We will then have to consider any changes that may be necessary based on that input.”

After some discussion, school board members agreed on the criteria to be used for the purpose of redistricting. The criteria to be used will: preserve core of prior districts; maintain existing voting precincts to avoid voter confusion; maintain minority representation on the board; be consistent with population in each district with allowable deviation from ideal population; avoid splitting of existing census blocks; contiguity; preserve communities of interest and respecting municipal boundaries; have recognizable, understandable boundaries; protecting incumbents from running against each other; and compactness.

Broox Garrett said work already done to help with redistricting plans has been made possible through the assistance of the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission.

“We can’t stress how much work has been done by SARPC on this,” Broox Garret said. “Everything that we’re doing is an effort to have the least amount of change that we could and still make it work.”

Broox Garrett said the data currently being used is the same data that has been used in the last two redistricting events in the county. The current proposed plan presented to board members last week is one he recommends be adopted.

“I recommend that you adopt these maps as the proposed plan so that we can begin public meetings,” Broox Garrett said. “This will help us to meet the deadlines of the Department of Justice.”

Kirk Garrett said once the Department of Justice has received the data, they have a limited amount of time to approve or request revisions.

“The Department of Justice will have 60 days to provide a response or to approve the plan,” Kirk Garrett said. “We want to get the work done so this doesn’t get prolonged and become a factor in the elections in March.”

Broox Garrett said public meetings would need to be planned in anticipation of submitting new district information to the Department of Justice for approval.

“We will need to conduct three public meetings,” Broox Garrett said. “There will need to be one in the Brewton/East Brewton area as well as Flomaton and Atmore.”

Proposed changes in school board districts in the county were approved by the board as well as objectives to be used in the redistricting process.

In other business, the school board heard a report from Superintendent Billy Hines on scholarships presented to county students this year. Hines said students at Escambia County High School received $849,748 in scholarships with Flomaton students receiving $502,650 in scholarships and W.S. Neal High School Students receiving $245,584 in scholarships. Total scholarships awarded to county students was $1,598,018, Hines said.