New map offered for BISD redistricting, but why?

New map offered for BISD redistricting, but why?

Despite the Beaumont Independent School District having hosted a number of public forums to discuss five scenarios and maps on how it would implement a voter-mandated shift from seven single members district to five single member district with two at-large positions, a sixth map is now being introduced into the mix without voter input.

The Examiner obtained a copy of the new map and the demographic breakdown of BISD patrons in the newly drawn districts. A review of the new boundary lines shows the new plan would pit four trustees against one another for two newly redrawn districts. Under the new plan, which was not previously discussed or presented to board members but instead drafted by demographer Tom Sanders at the direction of school attorney Melody Chappell, trustees Zenobia Bush and Terry Williams would have to battle one another in an upcoming election. Also, Tom Neild and Janice Brassard would go head-to-head on the next ballot.

Bush said she is not concerned about having to be on the ballot against Williams, who has been on the board for 14-plus years. And Bush said she is most likely the reason for the newly designed sixth map.

“I did get the plans this afternoon,” Bush told The Examiner in a phone interview Wednesday, April 18. “I think it was an attempt to try and enhance the 5D plan to help with the Hispanic community. If that is what it is, then that is fine. It increases the Hispanic community. I asked Melody (Chappell) to look at the 5D plan and enhance it some.

“So, I think that is what 5F is. It is not that much different from any of them, and it is an enhancement of 5D. Really, no one spoke in favor of hardly any of the plans. So, I don’t think it should upset anyone by adding another plan. Whatever plan is decided on, we will have to go back to the public for review. It certainly has to go to the Justice Department, and I think we still have to have a public meeting for that specific plan.”

But a review of the demographics for the new 5F plan shows that, compared to the 5D plan, the number of voting age Hispanics actually drops by .6 percent in District 3, where Hispanics are the most densely populated. The percentage of voting age Hispanics also drops by 1.2 percent in District 1 and by 2 percent in District 5. But the percentage of voting age Hispanics increases in District 4 by 2.6 percent and 1.9 percent in District 2. Those changes do not help the Hispanic community achieve representation on the board of trustees, said BISD trustee Mike Neil.

“It increases their number in insignificant districts and doesn’t help them get someone elected to the board,” Neil said.

At the present time, the new 5F plan is scheduled to be reviewed and recommended to the board Thursday, April 19, but the public hearing for that plan would not occur until the board’s next meeting in May. The plan appears to be to approve a plan and submit it to the U.S. Department of Justice in June, several board members said.

Still, the new plan piques the curiosity of some board members, who want to know if there is an ulterior motive behind it. BISD Trustee Tom Neild said he had no problem running on the ballot against Brassard. He said he just wants to make sure that other board members aren’t trying to protect their own districts and avoid an election.

“From what I understand, this is what Melody Chappell told Tom Sanders (the district demographer) to prepare,” Neild said. “I don’t know why. There has not been anything articulated to us or any reason presented to us for this new plan. I am trying to look at it with an open mind. This is going to pit me against Janice and if that is the way it works out, fine. I am not in this to position myself not to run against someone. Whatever works out for the total redistricting, I am all for it.

“You can’t squeeze seven of us into five districts. Someone will run against someone else that is on the board, and if that is me then I could care less. I don’t think any board member should be trying to manipulate the maps where they don’t have to run against someone. Looking at this, I think that is something that Melody will need to answer as to what has been requested of her from another board member.”

Brassard said she didn’t have any concerns about who she did or didn’t run against. She said it’s obvious that someone on the board is going to have to run against another board member if they all choose to stay on.

“If I don’t like it, I guess I could run for one of the at-large position,” Brassard said. “I haven’t looked at the maps yet.”

She said there were some on the board who were not happy with the racial make-up of the proposed district because the percentage of black voters to white voters was not high enough in some districts.

Brassard is referring to statements made during past meetings about blacks having a greater than 50 percent voting strength in some districts. The idea at the time was to ensure at least three districts had black voting populations of greater than 55 percent.

The 5F plan comes close to that; however, it shifts some population densities to create a supermajority for black voters, or greater than 66 percent, in what would be the new District 4 and gives a supermajority to white voters in what would become the new District 5. The new District 1 would see a slight decrease in white voters.

“Zenobia’s concern was that the black districts didn’t have a high enough majority in them,” Neil said. “And that is what this new plan does. She was outspoken about it, so that is not a surprise, but it is not that much different from the map that Tom and I proposed. There is something that is missing. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before I vote on any map.”

But Neild said he has a problem with another aspect of the new map because it would shift the individual district boundaries for every trustee, and he wonders how someone could be put in a district that didn’t vote for that elected official.”

And looking at the two maps, 5D and 5F, it appears the district numbers have been changed. In the new plan, the old District 1 would become District 2; the old District 2 would become District 5 and the old District 5 would be District 1. The old District 2 and 3 would stay the same but their boundaries would still shift.

“It’s as confusing and you can get, and we can’t get all the information,” Neild said. “Everything we get comes in bits and pieces, and we have to continually ask for it. In the professional world when people do business like that, you don’t deal with them. You find someone who can give you solid information that is credible. Instead, we get this information doled out to us a teaspoon at the time. That is what makes all of this so suspicious.”

Another concern is the way the boundaries are drawn and who would represent what area. Neild said he wants to know what is legal and what isn’t.Under the 5F plan, Mike Neil would shift from southwest Beaumont to northwest Beaumont. But the people in northwest Beaumont did not vote for Neil.“I don’t think we can force representation on someone who they didn’t vote on,” Neil said. “With redistricting around the state, surely we are not the only ones with this question. We need to get some of these questions answered and see where it goes.

“I don’t see how they can recommend a map to us that they have never presented to us or the public. If we hadn’t pulled information, we wouldn’t have been able to compare this map to the previous maps. Until we started asking for this information, we weren’t being given anything. They didn’t send us anything. We sent e-mails to see the previous plans with updated numbers and the numbers for the new 5F plan. It just doesn’t make sense. We shouldn’t have to ask for this information. They should be providing this to us and not making us jump through hoops to get it.”

Under the 5F plan obtained by the newspaper, its appears board president Woodrow Reece, Gwen Ambres and Neil would all be incumbents during their next election. In other words, they may draw outside opponents but they would not oppose other board members like Neild, Brassard, Bush and Williams would. There would also be an overall election for two at-large positions that could come from anywhere in the city.

“I got the information for the new plan from Melody, so you would be better off talking with her about it,” Sanders told The Examiner. “I am not sure where it originated from or who with but it passes DOJ standards, absolutely.”

Chappell did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment about the new plan by press time.