School board fights over district design

By JEAN L. KAESS

CENTERVILLE — After approving a redistricting plan in September and agreeing to hold a public hearing on it, the St. Mary Parish School Board decided it needed another plan to address the center of the parish.

What it got was two plans no one can agree on.

The board began its redistricting process in July. Redrawing district lines is required every 10 years to adjust for shifts in population indicated by new census numbers. Minority voting percentages are required to be maintained in certain districts to ensure that minority candidates and voters have a realistic chance to participate in the political process and gain office.

The first plan proposed was summarily thrown out because most board members had problems with it.

The plan presented in September by consulting demographer Mike Hefner, commonly known as Plan 2, was approved by the entire board during that meeting. A public hearing on the plan had been set for November, but about two weeks after the meeting, the hearing was cancelled and Thursday’s redistricting workshop was scheduled in its place.

During Thursday’s meeting, Plan 3 was introduced.

This plan essentially keeps the Patterson area districts together geographically — more so than Plan 2 — but brings District 7’s geographical area back east across the Calumet Cut.

Essentially, Plan 2 keeps the districts at the center of the parish together geographically, while Plan 3 keeps the districts in the Bayou Vista and Patterson (District 5, Ginger Griffin and District 6, Marilyn LaSalle) areas together, but pulls Centerville (District 7, Wayne Deslatte) apart to do so.

Plan 3 more closely resembles the plan currently in place and is more likely to hold its position while adjusting for projected population growth in the coming years, Hefner said.

When making changes to districts in the center of the parish, the largest population growth area in the parish, a ripple effect occurs outward, Hefner said, causing the change in Centerville in Plan 3.

Deslatte said one of his major objections is that in Plan 3 the street in front of Centerville High School is split into two districts with one side in his district and the other in another district.

Murphy Pontiff also voiced an objection to Plan 3, saying it strips a major street out of District 7, placing it instead into District 4.

Both plans are good, legal plans and meet the criteria for minority representation, Hefner assured the board.

Both plans also place District 3 (Ed Payton) and 4 (Pontiff) incumbents in the same district.

Griffin asked Hefner whether it would be an option to eliminate a district since two incumbents were in the same district. Hefner said it was not really an option because there still are a lot of other people in the district who could run for the seat.

In attempting to determine how to move forward, the board faced dissention in the ranks as to whether to present two plans to the public, one plan and, finally, whether it was even time to go to the public with a plan.

“Both are legal plans, therefore both are viable plans,” Hefner said.

On a motion by Deslatte and a second by Payton, the board voted to present both plans. LaSalle and Pontiff voted against the motion which passed. Joe Foulcard was absent.

The board then had to decide when they would actually hold a public hearing to present the information.

“What’s the hurry? We have four years to do this,” Payton told the board.

“Actually, you want to wrap it up by the end of 2012 to follow state statutes,” Hefner informed the board.

Board member Mike Taylor, noting he didn’t think it was in the board’s best interest to let the matter drag on, moved that the public hearing be held in January prior to the board meeting on Jan. 12. Payton seconded.

Pontiff and Deslatte voted against that motion.

Maps will be posted soon on The Daily Review website at stmarynow.com.

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