State redraws Clover school board lines to avoid lawsuit

news@enquirerherald.comApril 27, 2014 

— A Clover school board redistricting plan approved by the S.C. General Assembly a week ago will prevent the school district from facing a lawsuit that it was sure to lose, state legislators told district leaders Monday.

State Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, told school board members and others gathered at the district office Monday that he set the redistricting in motion late last fall after learning about a potential lawsuit against the Clover and Rock Hill school districts.

Norman said he received a call in November from a Louisiana law firm that he said was preparing to file a lawsuit over redistricting violations.

Norman said the firm didn’t name which school districts were being targeted. He said he contacted the S.C. Office of Research and Statistics and learned that the Clover and Rock Hill school districts were clearly in need of redistricting.

“It would be an open and shut case for this group to prevail in court,” Norman said, referring to the legal firm. Taxpayers, he said, “would be stuck with the legal bills.”

Bobby Bowers, state demographer with the S.C. Office of Research and Statistics, and his staff prepared redistricting plans for the Clover and Rock Hill school boards after Norman learned about the possible lawsuit.

Norman said that to his knowledge, the suit has not been filed.

Will Roberts, a redistricting expert with the S.C. Office of Research and Statistics, told school leaders and others Monday that the school district was a “prime target” for such a lawsuit “so we decided to go through with redistricting.”

The Clover school board has five districts with residency requirements and two at-large seats. Voting, however, is at-large for all seven seats.

Roberts said the five Clover school board districts varied in population from 8,892 in District 5 to 5,386 in District 3.

The target population for each district, based on the total voting-age population of the school district, is 6,874, he said.

Roberts said the total deviation from the target population between the largest and smallest districts should be less than 10 percent. However, he said in Clover, the total deviation between the largest and smallest districts was about 52 percent.

Roberts said the minority population in Clover, which is about 10 percent of the total, isn’t large enough to create one district where the minority population is a majority.

Although minority representation was not an issue, Roberts said the Clover district was still at risk of a lawsuit because the population in its five districts was dramatically out of balance.

“It still falls under the same principle, because the representation is not the same,” he said.

Under the Clover school board redistricting plan approved by the Legislature, the population in the five school board districts has a total deviation of 4.4 percent.

It ranges from a high of 7,044 in District 5 to a low of 6,741 in District 2.

School board chairman Mack McCarter, who spoke briefly, said the new districts still have one current board member living in each of the five districts and two at-large members. None of the existing board members will lose their seats with the redistricting.

McCarter and others said the Clover school board did not have any input into the plan approved by the Legislature.

Roberts said the state Legislature is the redistricting authority for school districts in South Carolina. He said that, unlike the state Legislature and county councils, school districts aren’t required to redistrict on a regular basis.

However, state Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, told the group Monday that state legislators need to keep an eye on school board districts.

“It’s good management on our part to look at it,” Pope said.

The new plan includes three districts in the Lake Wylie area that extend west toward Clover, one district in the central area that covers most of the town of Clover and one large district in the western part of the school district.

Several people at the meeting asked Roberts if his office had considered creating one school board district to represent the Lake Wylie area. Roberts said it did not consider that.

Roberts also said that the Clover school board system, which involves a mix of district and at-large representation, with all members elected at large, is a good mix.

He said the problem with single-member districts is that members tend to primarily consider the interests of their own area over the interests of the entire school district.

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