Reporting from Shadydale Elementary in the what used to be the heart of what used to be North Forest ISD. I can’t claim to have had a perfect count of officials and former officials in the building last night, but State Rep. Senfronia Thompson and HISD Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones were definitely present. Attendance for the night, according to my so-so crowd-counting abilities was maybe just north of 40 people. There was a slightly bulkier handout at the meeting (scanned here). My scan doesn’t pick up the maps terribly well, but those can be found in the original doc presented to the board here.
As stated yesterday, I believe this should, in theory, be an easy round of redistricting. North Forest only adds 52,368 people into Houston ISD. The average district size – post-annexation – will be 151,726. So, on the surface, there’s no easy way to have a district that retains much of North Forest’s region. Even if you found a way to leave NFISD whole, it would comprise just more than a third of the hypothetical district. Of course, it was also pointed out that you could triple the number of trustees on the school board. But apparently that number is set in state law, so the school board has no control over it.
As far as the timing of the map-making, the goal is to take something to the board for their August hearing. But that’s not a hard timeline if there’s any difficulties is an issue here. From the tone of the community feedback, it didn’t seem as if there would be much of an issue. Having drawn the lines as recently as 2011, district voters have cast votes and chosen their trustees.
For the sake of discussion, however, HISD’s “Priorities and Principles for Redistricting” have two criteria that add some inertia to the process:
(3) The new HISD Redistricting Plan will be based, to the extent possible, on the existing trustee district composition.
(9) Recognizing the value of incumbent-constituency relations, the new HISD Redistricting Plan will seek to keep existing trustees in their existing districts.
In short, advantage incumbents … which seems like a big deal since North Forest won’t have the possibility to contribute an incumbent to the board. I normally hate criteria like this in years that end in one. But lacking much of a dog in this fight, it would be interesting to see if ‘ll be interesting to see if this came into the conversation at any point. But last night? Nothing.
I was told that there might be a little rabble to be roused at this particular hearing. That explains why I just put up with rush hour traffic out of downtown to get here. I believe the anticipated feedback would along the lines of “why couldn’t you leave NFISD whole?” There was a little of that, but nothing that looked particularly incendiary.
On an additional note of redistricting criteria, I’ll point out another pet peeve of my own:
(6) The HISD Redistricting Plan will use whole county voting precincts, whenever possible, to draw trustee districts.
Emphasis on “whenever possible.” I don’t know if there is any legal basis for determining a meaningful cutoff point for that. In practice, however, it looks a little too convenient. Without a criteria for when “whenever possible” hits a brick wall, it serves to benefit the map-makers. In terms of how it played out in this process, page 27 of the new info packet highlights that fewer precincts are split in the proposed plan.
A couple of new wrinkles for this mid-decade process:
The map-makers created an “in between” map that adds NFISD to HISD and determines a new configuration. In part, this is necessary in order to assign the new turf to existing districts. Officially, those folks now have one of two new school board trustees. Also of importance is that the new map is what legally shows new population deviations between districts as well as a substantially high top-to-bottom deviation between the most-populated and least-populated district. You can’t redistrict without demonstrating that there is more than 10% difference there. And the new top-to-bottom deviation is 25.2%.
Now, I don’t think there is any way to add NFISD and keep those deviations within 10%. But the 25% result is, in one sense, and artificial result. There are a number of ways that NFISD could have been split up. Furthermore, there doesn’t appear to be any legal basis for not redrawing lines in existing districts if it fits within the criteria put forth by HISD. Of course, you get a much bigger can of worms with the trustees, not to mention possible public pushback if you stand accused of fitting in NFISD without the traditional redistricting process. In short, though, there was a map that didn’t need public input to approve and there is now a proposed map that does. For now, that just strikes me as interesting.
The numbers used for redistricting are still the 2010 Census data, but the Rice U. team working the GIS did look at ACS data to see where the districts might be headed in the future. I’ve got a request in for some shapefiles and I plan to do a couple of things with that. One is to overlay that with my favorite view: CVAP Majority, as well as ask the Lege Council in Austin to show the CVAP numbers for the proposed map.
At some point, I’ll also look at the NFISD boundaries on top of that CVAP Majority map and possibly do the same for Total Population and Voting Age Population. That may help demonstrate some of what was mentioned at the meeting about why NFISD is split the way it is between Districts 2 and 8. In short, one part is more predominantly African-American and another isn’t. Allegedly, adding all of NFISD into District 2, for instance, the AfrAm population share would drop and result in a red flag with the Justice Department. On the surface, there’s a bit of irony here: you can’t submit a map that retrogresses AfrAm population, especially when you’re annexing a district as heavily AfrAm as NFISD. But if you were to incorporate NFISD by keeping it whole, you would retrogress the plan. This is exactly the sort of thing that passes for humor at Redistricting Meetups … or so I hear. Part of the problem is that for all its reputation as being heavily African-American, the total population in NFISD is only 66% AfrAm and 30% Hispanic. You might be able to work it so that the AfrAm majority District 2 boosts its AfrAm numbers, but there is still a resulting impact on the Hispanic districts based on all of the other threads you end up pulling from the proverbial sweater to balance out population. Again, this is precisely the sort of thing that makes life interesting for people that play (and work) with maps.
One final not-unexpected item from the public input was a pointed question about what the Anglo share of HISD students was and what the Anglo share of HISD Trustees was. The answers are 8% and 45%. You can probably use your imagination to figure out what the intent of the question was. But it raises an interesting point in my mind about future legal challenges in redistricting. For instance, what if you compared the demographic difference between HISD-eligible parents or families and used that to challenge whether a redistricting plan was representative. I don’t know that the argument would be strong enough to win a judicial or DOJ challenge. But to the extent that any jurisdiction is going to go through the redistricting process during the coming years, it will be interesting to see how differences between electorates and affected individuals plays out. In theory, that would be a very similar argument made by those who wish to see legislative redistricting done based on CVAP. Never let it be said that politics can’t make for interesting bedfellows.
The next hearing is on July 8th at Pin Oak Middle School – just far enough inside the loop to not qualify as SW Houston, but this will be as close as it gets for us. Page 23 of the new packet shows the affected areas where the boundaries change. Our side of town doesn’t have much. I’m expecting a civil affair. In short, if there wasn’t a major hue and cry from North Forest about the draft plan, I’d be willing to bet a Coke that the proposed plan sails through in August.