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Responders to an ongoing survey regarding preferences for school board election zones in the Little Rock district overwhelmingly prefer an option built around clusters of elementary schools.

But Shelby Johnson, the state Geographic Information Services officer whose staff developed three election-zone plans, said Thursday that he believes the title for the preferred zone plan is confusing and causing survey participants to select it because they incorrectly think it will affect student assignments to schools.

Johnson spoke about the election-zone plans at a public forum Thursday that was attended by over a dozen members of the public, school district staff members and Community Advisory Board members. The event was also livestreamed on Facebook and recorded so that it is available on the district's website and cable television for later viewing.

The proposed election zones and the preference survey that will be open until 8 p.m. Wednesday also are on the district's website: www.lrsd.org.

The state-appointed advisory board is expected to select an option at its meeting Thursday to recommend to Education Secretary Johnny Key for a final decision.

[INTERACTIVE MAP: LRSD proposed election zones » https://www.arkansasonline.com/214map/]

Key is to select an election-zone plan in preparation for a Nov. 5 election of a nine-member school board for the district that has been operating under state control -- without an elected school board -- since January 2015.

Key had asked Johnson last year to develop the election-zone options, with each option being made up of nine zones that will result in a nine-member board -- one board member per zone.

One proposed option clusters election precincts together.

Another option was devised by building zones around groups of elementary schools.

The third option creates zones of substantially equal populations, or "low variance" option.

A total of 115 of the early responders to the anonymous survey favor the elementary school plan, 69 favor the election precinct plan and 28 favored the low variance plan. There were 10 who commented but declined to select a preference, Johnson said.

Johnson said he is an advocate for the option that is based on clusters of election precincts, which he believes will be easier for county election officials to use in assigning more than 120,000 voters to their proper school board zone and providing them with correct ballots.

Larry Hicks, an audience member, questioned why a seven-member school board election zone plan is not an option, as that is what the district had before the state takeover and that is what he believes people would prefer. Johnson said that was not the assignment he was given.

Another audience member on Thursday questioned why a mayor-appointed school board was not a consideration.

Johnson detailed for the audience how election zones must conform to statutes and court decisions that call for elections zones to be substantially equal populations, be compact, and also take into account minority populations, communities of interest, and political and geographic boundaries.

Metro on 02/14/2020

Print Headline: Title of 1 option for school zones raises concern

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