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BSISD committee wrestles with redistricting

June 24, 2011

Attorney Fred Stormer of the Underwood law firm discusses proposed single-member district boundaries for Big Spring Independent School District during the BSISD Redistricting Advisory Committee meeting Thursday. (HERALD photo/Steve Reagan)

As the old saying goes, the devil's in the details.

Drawing new district maps for a governmental entity is a concept that sounds fairly simple on the surface — take your total population, divide it by the number of representatives, then reshape the boundaries so that each district has roughly the same number of residents.

But as the Big Spring ISD Redistricting Advisory Committee learned during its Thursday meeting, the process is anything but simple. Aside from ensuring that each of BSISD's seven single-member districts has approximately the same number of people, the boundaries have to reflect the school district's ethnic makeup, remain compact and contiguous, conform to federal mandates and, for good measure, try to anticipate future voting trends.

In the 10 years since BSISD's last redistricting, the population makeup of its single member districts has chanced noticeably. Fred Stormer, an attorney with the Underwood Law Firm — which represents BSISD and has been heavily involved in the redistricting effort — said the new single-member districts must reflect those changes.

“If you have a deviation between the district with the highest population and the one with the lowest population of more than 10 percent, you must redraw the boundaries,” Stormer said. “Big Spring ISD's total deviation is 28.16 percent.”

Those changes have been most pronounced in District 1 (the northeast portion of Big Spring), which has lost 550 residents in the past 10 years, and District 6 (the far eastern section of Big Spring), which has gained 380 residents.

Also, the demographic makeup of BSISD has changed markedly in the past 10 years. Not only has the district's total population grown, but the number of Hispanic residents has increased dramatically. Hispanic population within the district has increased from 35 percent in 2000 to 42 percent in 2010. Correspondingly, the district's Anglo population has decreased from 58 percent in 2000 to a fraction above 50 percent in 2010.

“Our goal is to make a map that has three districts that are predominantly Anglo in population, three that are predominantly Hispanic in population, and one that's basically evenly split between the two,” Stormer said.

Not only do the new boundaries have to represent BSISD's total population and ethnic breakdown, they must also reflect the voting-age population to satisfy federal requirements that minorities have a fair chance of electing the candidate of their choice, Stormer said.

That last condition has proved to be the toughest to satisfy. Stormer and demographers have developed maps that brings the deviance into compliance and accurately reflect current demographics. But redrawing the map so that the voting ages of residents reach the goal of having three predominantly Hispanic and three predominantly Anglo districts (plus one evenly-split district) has proven difficult to achieve.

“At the last school board meeting, I presented two possible maps to the trustees … and I promised them I'd come with a third option,” Stormer said. “Now, we have four maps to choose from, and I really don't like any of them.”

What the committee must do in the days leading up to Thursday's special school board meeting is to tweak the latest proposed map to increase the Hispanic voting age population of District 6 while still satisfying other requirements.

The committee will meet again at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the high school board room.

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