Redistricting stirs school politics

By Barry Merrill

Tribune Publisher

A school re-districting consultant presented what his company could offer Wayne County Schools last Monday. What ensued was an emotional discussion of the reasons why re-districting is so difficult.

The first topic on the agenda triggered another long regular meeting of the Wayne County Board of Education last Monday night. In a split vote, the board approved going forward.

Dr. Jerome McKibben of McKibben Demographics of South Carolina presented how his company has worked with school systems across the country, and he focused on their work with Cabarrus County, which is currently ongoing.

In his 30 years of experience in working with school systems, he stated that the science of projecting school populations had improved significantly, and he offered data that shows minimal variance of his projections over time. He said recognition of the number of females in a school attendance area between the ages of 20 and 34, the price of homes, and the turnover rate of homes in an area all contribute to his projections. He even touched on IRS data on in migration and out migration.

School Board member Arnold Flowers commented that his presentation seemed to suggest, to him, that he was telling the county where to build new schools, and “this county has no appetite to build new schools.”

Dr. McKibben responded that his data could also be used to suggest where replacements for existing schools, which are no longer efficient to heat and cool and too expensive to maintain, should be built. Most schools are re-built at the same spot, but changes in student populations and dispersion may make transportation costs, for example, impractical. He related some school districts, to deal with unexpected growth, have attendance areas which resemble a map of Chile.

School Board member Raymond Smith posed another concern, saying Dr. McKibben wasn’t saying enough about race and low socio-economic factors.

Mr. McKibben said under federal guidelines, race was not allowed as a factor, and free and reduced lunch was a preferred guideline. He said that would be included in the data he would assemble, and could be considered by those actually drawing the lines.

Mr. Flowers also said that historically schools had been built in this county to “keep the rich kids from going to school with the poor kids.”

Dr. McKibben at one point told Mr. Flowers that his data would make him mad, reflecting the difficulty of the process, but said that he could present data objectively, as he “had no horse in the race.”

School Board member Rick Pridgen, who is up for re-election this fall in a difficult re-election bid, said he sees this process going on for two or three years.

Later in the 4 1/2 hour meeting, the board voted 5-1 to hire Mr. McKibben, with Mr. Flowers asking to be excused from the vote and Mr. Smith voting against.

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