So what? Here’s what we think of WCSD’s regional representation

So Warren County isn’t wed to the way that school directors are elected.

Given what state law indicates, what the court ruled in 2002 and what we’ve deduced from re-drawing some map lines, there are numerous potential possibilities to consider.

Could our school board election process be fairer?

What follows is our analysis of the maps, what effect they have on elections as well as discussion on how we think the system could be changed to be more effective:

The court says regional interests should be represented. It has always struck us odd that we have three regions for election purposes and four attendance areas — five if you go back to the year the ruling came down.

In many cases throughout the county, the people that we elect to serve on the school board don’t actually represent our children in the schools that they attend.

Students in Deerfield Township attend Youngsville schools (leaving the Tidioute charter school out of the picture for the sake of the example). Deerfield’s school board members are currently elected from Conewango (Donna Zariczny and Joe Colosimo) and Sheffield (Jeff Labesky). Students from Conewango go to Warren and students from Sheffield go to Sheffield. So the questions then become (1) whether or not regional representation is effective and (2) whether it is a system worthy of maintaining.

Regional representation has undoubtedly resulted in members who are elected to the board to advocate strictly for their school, most pronounced being representation for Eisenhower and Sheffield, the charter school effort in the northern area and the Save Our School initiative in Sheffield as past evidence.

And when those regional interests do develop, they tend to focus on saving schools and, just as importantly, saving sports programs.

In our experience covering the board, there have been few, if any, representatives from the Youngsville attendance area – which contains the second largest elementary school in the county – on the school board.

A look at the current three-region model shows that the Youngsville attendance area is split in two – the southern portion’s representatives are from Conewango and Sheffield while the northern portion’s members are all from the Eisenhower attendance area. It’s almost like Youngsville was gerrymandered to not matter. There is a gerrymandering term for this. ‘Cracking’ is the practice of dividing a community to reduce its influence.

Does the presence of Tidioute Community Charter School drive down voter turnout in the Youngsville attendance area? Put another way, if my kids go to Tidioute, what motivation do I have to care who serves on the WCSD school board, as long as the candidates aren’t blatantly anti-charter?

There may be voter turnout factors at play or myriad explanations for why this is the case, but the map certainly doesn’t help Youngsville.

Would an all at-large model fix that and other problems?

Probably not. It would just bring a whole different series of concerns about ballot stuffing and the balance of power, if you will, either being consolidated in the city (where half of the school district’s students reside) or by the outlying areas.

The School Code permits regions and at-large elections as well as combinations thereof.

But the Code requires that, if you’re going to have regions, they have to follow precinct boundaries and be balanced for the population.

Which is a shame because it removes from the table any proposal that apportions board representation based on attendance area boundaries.

For example, if, as is currently the case, 50 percent of the students attend in the central attendance area, then that attendance area could have 50 percent of the board representation.

Such a model adjusted for the other percentages could be something like this – four votes for Warren, two each in Eisenhower and Youngsville and one in Sheffield. Or a hybrid of two in Warren, one in each of the other three and four at-large.

We haven’t really settled on whether there is an archetype model – whether regional, at-large or a combination – that should be considered.

A hybrid solution, though, may be best.

Try this on for size: We maintain the three regions that exist currently (there really isn’t any other way to draw a balanced three region map) and assign two board seats to each of those regions. The remaining three members would then be elected at-large with the caveat that the board president and vice-president always come from the at-large members.

There is some inherent voting balance here.

For a region to pack the board, they either have to win all three county-wide seats OR find consensus with the other regionally-elected members. The three at-large would need at least one of the regional delegations to move anything forward. In the end, there probably isn’t a perfect model.

Representative democracy is always a balancing act between the needs of the many and the needs of the few. But, as we said earlier, we believe it is important to engage in these types of dialogues.

After all, it’s the only way to form “…a more perfect Union.”