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Editorial: How not to redistrict?

If there’s a good way to go about redistricting schools, no one has found it. Monday night’s exchange at the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education meeting illustrates why. The issue is so charged with emotion that even members of the school board get their hackles up.
The board attempted to avoid that pitfall by hiring an impartial third party, Operations Research and Education, to come up with proposed district maps. A committee of the board reviewed 30 maps from OR/ED, winnowed them down to three and recommended one to the board. The board zeroed in on a different map and scheduled hearings. Most of the people who spoke at the hearings opposed the plan, as you might expect.
That sounds like a logical order of events, and it was. It might even be a textbook example of how a board should go about redistricting. Still, at what appeared to be nearly the end of the process Monday night, the plan imploded and the board voted to go back to the near-beginning and review all 30 maps.
If board members are looking for a map that pleases everyone, good luck. It doesn’t exist. Moving school lines involves significant change, and people don’t like it. Buying a home is a major life decision, and most families give considerable weight to the school district issue. They ó we ó could be offered the Taj Mahal for $100,000; if it’s not in the right district, forget it.
There are legitimate reasons to drop or change the plan the board was considering. As everyone seemed to agree, moving students in Faith again, just four years after they were moved to Carson High, puts undue burden on those families. That was strike one against the plan.
As the hearings progressed, many people took issue with Salisbury High’s exclusion from the plan. That was strike two.
Then board member Bryce Beard spoke up in defense of Salisbury, and it was strike three, game over, take your ball and go home.
Several schools were left out of the last redistricting that involved Salisbury and North. Most people didn’t notice that round of redistricting because they weren’t affected. Now, suddenly, redistricting requires 100 percent participation, so Salisbury has become a source of resentment. Unfortunately, Beard fell into the trap that so many public hearing speakers did ó inadvertently putting down others while trying to speak up for one school. By making Salisbury High sound like the best and the brightest, he stirred up animosity. Hence the finger-pointing from board member Patty Williams exhibited on Tuesday’s front page.
Karen Carpenter’s defense of North was just as fired-up, but she stepped on fewer toes. Everyone believes his or her school is the best, with the smartest students, the hardest-working teachers and the sharpest principal.
Despite what some say, the $40,000 the board spent on the consultant was not wasted. Had anyone else drawn up the maps, they’d be accused of favoritism. Even if all 30 maps are rejected, the school board can say that it tried to look at redistricting logically and dispassionately. But it’s just not possible. Board members find themselves in the same turmoil that plagues every school board when it tries to change district lines. No matter how you do it, someone is going to be mad.

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