A lot has changed in Broward County since 2000.[cleeng_content id="176131600" description="Why stop now? It's just getting interesting!" price="1.99" referral="0.10"]Once seemingly the nation’s capital for political corruption, a flurry of public officials, from the County Commission (Diana Wasserman-Rubin) and School Board (Beverly Gallagher) to the corridors of city hall (Fitzroy Salesman) and BSO (Ken Jenne), have been arrested on corruption charges.
Full disclosure: this writer helped send another three individuals (Al Capellini, Steve Gonot, and Sylvia Poitier) up the river.
Another significant change is the county’s flock to the western parts. And it’s this westward trend that forced a redraw of the existing Broward County School District Map.
So when the Publisher asked me to write something about redistricting, I immediately began to wonder… Is there a story here? Given the agency’s sordid past, what sort of salaciousness could I find? And off to the phones I went, calling my contacts at the School Board.
Speaking to Board Member Nora Rupert, I was told, “we’re trying to be as open and transparent as possible.”
Well, coming from someone used to covering political intrigue, that’s no fun.
So undeterred, I reached out to my friends in the activism community, who told me, “there’s nothing here. Just boring business as usual.”
But how could redistricting be boring? Images of children being bussed halfway across the county and soccer moms in their Dodge Caravans, armed with pitchforks, descending en masse flashed through my mind.
How could that be boring?
It is, when you consider redistricting is the process by which elected seats are distributed among populations for representation. Concerned parents need not fret, as these changes won’t impact existing student attendance boundaries and transportation.
So, in the end, it is indeed just boring business as usual.
Open. Transparent. Accountable.
When considering Gallagher, the former Broward School Board member, was convicted of a federal bribery charge and sentenced to three years and one month in prison, maybe “boring business as usual” is a story.
Broward County, we’ve come a long way baby.
So then, let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of redistricting.
As mentioned, a good portion of Broward’s population (1,748,066 residents) has been moving west. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, Pembroke Pines and Miramar witnessed dramatic growth and folks east of the Florida Turnpike watched as their ranks thinned out.
This shift put the existing School District Map out of balance with Florida Law, which seeks equal representation by mandating each district’s population be “as equal as is practicable.”
Broward’s not alone in this remapping endeavor. Both the Palm Beach School Board and Miami Dade County School Board have undergone and completed their redistricting. Our own redrawing of the District Map, well underway at the moment, will be implemented in 2014.
As one would imagine, there are many layers to this onion.
All redistricting is based upon the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
Then there’s Florida Law demanding changes must not “disqualify serving School Board members for the term in which they were elected should a change affect their residency qualifications.”
In other words, changes must not impact any currently serving School Board member.
Also thrown into this mix are the following Broward County School Board Guiding Principles:
- Alignment of single-member districts with high school innovation zones allows school communities to be represented by one board member with minimal disruption whenever possible.
- Alignment of single-member districts with equal numbers of schools within a district whenever possible.
- Preservation of communities of interest whenever possible.
For readers unfamiliar with the term “high school innovation zones”, those are feeder elementary, middle, high and center schools that allow collaborative communication.
But wait, there’s more.
Remember Rupert’s quote about “transparency”? Well, those in charge of our children’s learning really encouraged the public to get involved. Numerous meetings were held countywide and online comments were folded into the discussion.
We’d also be remiss not to mention the submission of user-defined maps.
Interested members of the public, finding themselves with free time, could submit their own redistricting maps. For folks as confused as this writer in the map creation process, District staff provided one-on-one assistance in the drawing of map alternatives.
Move over Christopher Columbus, here comes Chaz!
A small platoon of volunteers, 19 in total, oversaw this entire process. Known as the Redistricting Steering Committee, they were tasked with absorbing public input and helping draft the redistricting proposal.
Business as usual indeed.[/cleeng_content]