The Union County school board approved a controversial redistricting Tuesday night to boos and hisses. The crowd was vocal, but not large since the vote came as a complete surprise.
The school board had a few things to approve at this week’s board meeting. But redistricting several thousand students was not one of them, at least if you believe the official meeting agenda. All it said was the board would discuss options to alleviate overcrowding. It did not say anything about a vote.
But midway through the meeting, school board member John Crowder made the motion. A couple amendments were made as the crowd booed and shouted.
Board member Marce Savage walked off the stage and her colleague Sherry Hodges shook her head.
“We talked about when we were going to have the vote in April. I prepared myself for that,” said Hodges.
The board then approved the redistricting 7-to-1. Hodges was the one vote against it.
“I immediately broke down in tears,” says parent Gina Warakois.
She heard about the decision immediately on Facebook. She’s gone to previous meetings, but decided to sit this one out and attend April’s meeting when a vote was expected.
“They knew the turnout would be much lower and I think that was their intent. They didn’t want us there and they didn’t want to hear what we had to say,” says Warakois.
The board first brought up redistricting in January. Since then, it’s been a topic of several board meetings and public hearings. So parents have certainly had a chance to weigh in. But still there was no indication whatsoever the board planned to vote on it at this week’s meeting.
Jonathan Jones with the North Carolina Open Government Coalition says what the school board did was legal, but not ethical.
“If you’ve told the public you’re going to vote on it on a particularly day and then you suddenly change your mind and move that forward without giving them notice, then you have violated that trust that you have with the public by treating them with disrespect and saying, ‘We’re not going to do what we said we would do,’” says Jones.
School board Chairman Richard Yercheck says the board was within its right to vote on the redistricting this week.
“The April deadline was the last time that it could happen. That was the firewall. That was the drop-dead date that it could take place. The vote could take place at any board meeting any time that a board member called the vote," said Yercheck.
So why not give the public any heads up?
"Right, again. It was up to board members to decide that that’s what they wanted to do," Yercheck said, before pausing and then acknowledging he was "stammering."
Yercheck continued, "A board member called the vote. There was a second. So we had to deal with that."
The redistricting plan the board approved is different than the original proposal. The original plan called for shifting 5,800 students. It won’t be that many next year because the board decided to allow all current high school students to stay at the school they now attend. Current fourth-graders and seventh-graders will also be able to stay at their schools, as long as their families provide transportation. Those students would then be redistricted after finishing elementary or middle school.