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Little Rock School Board election zones up for public comment

Drafts on board’s agenda by Cynthia Howell | October 28, 2021 at 3:54 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock School District headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo.

The Little Rock School Board is inviting the public to comment on draft revisions to School Board election zones at a 5:30 p.m. meeting today during which the board will act on proposed employee salary increases and on extending a mask-wearing requirement.

Other agenda items include a review of first-quarter student achievement data and a renewal of the district’s contract with the City Year organization that provides a corps of young adults to serve as tutors and mentors in some district schools.

The Arkansas Geographic Information Systems has prepared three options for equalizing the populations of the district’s nine School Board election zones using the new 2020 U.S. census data.

The district’s current election zones, drawn in 2019 and based on the 2010 Census data that was available at the time, reflect population variances of more than 12%.

Shelby Johnson, Arkansas Geographic Information Systems officer, told the board earlier this month that some variation among the zones is legally acceptable but the current variance is too high, and zone boundary adjustments will be necessary for the November 2022 school board elections.

The School Board is expected to select an election zone plan at its November meeting.

Superintendent Mike Poore has told the board that the need for election zone changes will likely require all board positions to be open for election next year.

The population of the school district grew in the past decade by about 20,300 to a total of 181,094, making the target population in each of the nine election zones 20,121. The population living within the school district boundaries is 59.96% minority, Johnson said, adding that the different races and ethnic groups are fairly well distributed across the district.

Each of the three zone options offered by Johnson are designed to increase the population in Zone 7, which encompasses east and downtown Little Rock, and Zone 8, which covers a portion of northwest Little Rock.

Additionally, the boundaries for the different zone proposals are designed to reduce the numbers of people in Zone 1 in southwest Little Rock and Zone 4 in west Little Rock.

Each of the three election zone options calls for exchanges of territory among the current zones, with Concept A affecting the fewest zones, Concept B requiring tweaks to all zones and Concept C creating the greatest level of change among the zones.

Concept C is different from other options in that it puts the entire town of Cam-mack Village in the same north-central Zone 5 and improves on the compactness of Zone 6 in the central part of the city, Johnson said.

Zone 6 has very irregular borders.

Concept C has a variance of 1.74% among the different zones.

All of the proposed options keep the current board members in their current zones; no current board member is drawn out of their current zone, Johnson said.

Additionally, each of the options results in five zones having a majority population of Black, Hispanic and other minority group members, and four zones would have majority-white populations. That is the case currently, as well.

Johnson has said he believes all three options are legally defensible.

The Little Rock School Board meeting is viewable on YouTube by typing lrsdlive.com on the computer search bar.

The district also streams meetings on LRSDTV.org, and broadcasts them on Com-cast Channel 4 and U-verse Channel 99.

Members of the public can submit comments to the board before the board meeting by using this form: https://bit.ly/3EoUkHy.

The deadline for online submissions is 1 p.m. on the day of the meeting.

To provide live comment to the School Board via Zoom, people can submit their names, email contacts, and phone numbers on the form and indicate a desire to participate in-person, by 1 p.m., the day of meeting.

Those who want to make live comments will be contacted and provided with the Zoom link before the meeting and admitted during the public comment portion for speaking to the board for up to 3 minutes.

The public may also mail public comments to: Little Rock School District, Attention: Public Comment for Board Meeting, 810 W. Markham St., Little Rock, AR 72201.

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