School Board plans future representation, constrained by low census turnout

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Nathan Wilson | Reporter
Dannie P. Garrett III, a consultant with his own firm, presented the Natchitoches Parish School Board with a choice of two maps Feb. 17 at a board workshop.
He had used population data gathered during the 2020 census combined with local geographical features to divide the parish between the 11 elected school board members.
In the first map, the boundaries of each district shifted to account for population changes logged by the census, and districts that had seen increases in population were trimmed down. Conversely, districts that had lost residents saw their boundaries stretched to claim more.

This article published in the Feb. 19, 2022, print edition

Each member of the school board was given an opportunity to view the new boundaries of their district and compare it with the older map created from the 2010 census. Fourth district representative Billy Benefield was the only member who expressed reservations; his district shrunk geographically as its population growth outpaced that of its neighbors. While losing territory to preserve electoral equality is normal and legally required, he expressed an emotional attachment to his former constituents.
In the second map, school board president Steven Harris asked Garrett to try to create a fifth minority-majority district, a task Garrett had accomplished by shifting the boundaries of the 11th district. Displaying a zoomed out view of the entire parish, Garrett noted that district four appeared non-contiguous at first glance. Contiguity, in which every piece of land is connected, is a requirement for many types of voting districts, and lacking the feature would have invalidated the map.
On zooming in, Garrett pointed to a narrow strip of land, barely more than a road, that connected the two parts of the district and made it contiguous. While pointing to this road, he noticed that an adjacent block of land had zero inhabitants and could be added to district four to improve its appearance without repercussions.
School board members review the proposed district lines created by results of the recent census. Photo by Nathan Wilson

Garrett noted that he had created both maps based on a delicate balance of legal priorities: chief among them “one person one vote”, in which each district contained similar populations sizes so that no district had influence disproportionate to its population as determined by the census. Other requirements were more technical; areas of the map had to be divided by tract, precinct, and identifiable features, a fact that sounds sensible, but leads to neighborhoods being split by convenient roads. Notably, while preserving fair minority representation was one stipulation, a 2013 decision by the US Supreme Court determined that the school board, along with every other jurisdiction nationwide, did not need pre-clearance to select a map. This requirement was enacted under the 1965 voting rights act and had previously reduced the available window for the board to consider alternatives.
The school board members didn’t vote on either map; they have until June to make a decision. Acknowledging the complexity of making revisions, Harris warned them not to wait until the last minute, “Let’s make this happen early,” he implored. Each member was given a printed version of both maps to review, and the board moved to other business.