Urbana School Board Launches Redistricting Process

November 10, 2011

The Urbana school board is launching the process of redrawing its subdistrict boundaries --- in preparation for the next school board election in 2013.

District 116 is one of just a few Illinois school districts that elects board members from subdistricts, instead of at large. It's been that way since voters passed a referendum in 1998. Subdistrict borders must be adjusted after each new census to reflect changes in population. Urbana School Board President John Dimit (representing Subdistrict 7) said their goal is to keep the new boundaries as close to the old ones as the new census data will permit, "to prevent disruption as much as we can, from people who kind of have an idea of what sub-district they're a part of."

Dimit said the board desire not to minimize voter confusion during the redistricting process results in relatively stable subdistricts.

The subdistrict system was chosen with the goal of promoting geographic and racial diversity on the Urbana school board. Dimit said maintaining that diversity is one of their goals in redistricting. Towards that end, the board seeks at least one "minority-majority" subdistrict during redistricting --- where one minority group dominates. Dimit said that was possible during the last redistricting a decade ago, and it won't be possible this time, due to District 116's demographics. But he said that Subdistrict 2 on the school district's west side achieves roughly the same result, because the influence of its 32 percent African-American population is boosted by a white population made up largely of University of Illinois students who rarely vote.

"We've bent over back backwards to make sure that there is the ability to ensure --- to practically guarantee --- that we will have at least one black representative on the seven-member school board," Dimit said.

School Board Vice President Benita Rollins-Gay, who is African-American, represents Subdistrict 2.

Dimit said he's not actually a supporter of the subdistrict system, arguing it's not needed to achieve diversity on the Urbana School Board. He said the all-white school board that existed at the time of the 1998 referendum was an anomaly. Dimit also said the subdistrict system has made it difficult to field candidates for school board elections, because of the requirement that they come from seven different geographic areas within District 116.

The Urbana school board voted Wednesday night to contract with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, and use its experts to help draw up a new subdistrict map. Next up is a special meeting Nov. 21 at the Regional Planning Commission offices at the Brookens Center in Urbana, where school board members will meet with the experts to brainstorm on the new boundaries.

At a Dec. 6 meeting, school board members will review three subdistrict map proposals from the RPC experts, and choose a potential finalist. Community forums will be scheduled to present the map proposals to District 116 residents, and the school board will take a final vote on Dec. 15.

Story source: WILL