School district to nullify voter intent

School district to nullify voter intent

A special public meeting of the Beaumont Independent School District Board of Trustees will be held at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 10, to discuss, among other things, submitting a districting plan that would nullify the intent of voters who passed a measure to change the board’s current make-up in May 2011. The 2011 voter initiative directed the BISD board to change from the current process of selecting trustees via seven single member districts (7/0) to that of five single member districts with two at-large positions (5/2).

A districting plan instituting the 5/2 boundaries was submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice but failed to garner pre-clearance. According to the DOJ decision letter penned by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the reason for the DOJ decision is due to the retrogressive effect of instituting the change and, in his opinion, racist motivations potentially led to the change proposal in the first place.

“It is not likely that a black-preferred candidate would successfully be elected in an at-large contest. Based upon that analysis I cannot conclude, as I must under Section 5, that the district has met its burden of establishing the absence of a retrogressive effect,” Perez stated. “Accordingly, I must interpose an objection to the proposed change in method of election for the Beaumont Independent School District from seven single-member districts to five single-member districts with two at-large positions. Because the district has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that this proposed change will not have a retrogressive effect, we do not make any determination as to whether the district has established that the proposed change was adopted with no discriminatory purpose.”

Additionally, Perez concluded, “There is overwhelming evidence that both the campaign leading to the (May 2011 referendum) election as well as the issue itself carried racial overtones with the genesis of the change and virtually all of its support coming from white residents.

“A statistical analysis of the election confirms the extreme racial polarization that the issue created: Black voters cohesively voted to maintain the current method of election and white voters voted cohesively for the proposed change. We estimate over 90 percent of white voters, but less than 10 percent of black voters supported the change.”

Perez was also steadfast in maintaining the DOJ opinion that the 5/2 plan would most likely not be able to conform to the rigors of what is required for the department’s approval, and offered no preferred method of bringing the plan to adoptable status.

“The school district has failed to establish that implementing the proposed method of election will offer the same ability to African-American voters to exercise the electoral franchise that they enjoy currently,” Perez surmised. “Black voters now have the ability to elect four of the seven board members; the proposed plan provides that ability for only three positions. In order for black voters to maintain their current level of voting strength under the new configuration, they must be able to elect a candidate of choice from one at-large position. The evidence, however, offers little, if any, support for that conclusion.”

BISD board member Zenobia Bush said she is unsure of how the following weeks will change the DOJ ruling and what the outcome will mean for voters and the makeup of the board. According to her, it is likely that the upcoming May 2013 election will have voters electing their representation under the current seven single member districts plan.

“The citizens have voted one way and the justice department has voted another way,” she said. “The 5/2 plan has been shown to be retrogressive throughout the years; elements of retrogression are built on the 5/2 plan.

“I’m not sure exactly what we’ll do now that we have this ruling. This is all new for all of us, so we have to meet with our attorney to see how this will work out.”

Clarification could be forthcoming at BISD’s anticipated Thursday meeting, where the board is scheduled to conference with the district’s attorney and consider adopting an alternate 7/0 districting plan.