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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Little Rock School District headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo. - Photo by Gavin Lesnick

The Little Rock School District's Community Advisory Board will hear presentations tonight on three options for school board election zones.

Each of the options is made up of nine zones, which will result in a nine-member board -- one board member per zone -- in the Little Rock system.

One option clusters election precincts together to form the nine election zones.

Another option was devised by building zones around groups of elementary schools.

The third option creates zones of substantially equal populations, or "low variance."

The advisory board is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. at the district's headquarters, 810 W. Markham St. It is not known when the advisory board will make a recommendation.

The Little Rock district has been operating under state control without a locally elected board for the past five years.

The Arkansas Board of Education voted late last year to return the 23,000-student district -- with some restrictions -- to local governance after a November 2020 election of a nine-member school board.

The new board will be the only nine-member school board in the state. School boards of either five or seven members are the norm. The Little Rock district had a seven-member board elected from seven election zones before the 2015 state takeover.

The three election zone options were prepared late last year by the state Geographic Information Systems agency at the request of Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key.

Key, who acts in lieu of a school board for the Little Rock district, is expected to make the final decision on an election plan.

The information systems office used the 2010 U.S. census population data, the most recent information available, as the basis for designing the three options. The 2020 census count is now underway, so zones for the Little Rock district and other districts will have to be redrawn in 2021 or 2022 to conform to the updated population information.

The Geographic Information Systems agency used different criteria to develop each option.

The plan drawn around election precincts has the largest variation in population from zone to zone -- a difference of about 1,800 from the smallest to largest of the nine zones -- compared with the elementary school and low-variance options.

In two of the three options, a majority of the nine zones have black populations above 50%. In the other option, four zones have a black population above 50%, three zones have a white population above 50%, and two zones do not have any one racial or ethnic population above 50%.

Shelby Johnson, state Geographic Information Services officer, supervised the development of the three options and said in a recent interview that he will present those options at tonight's advisory board meeting.

"No zone plan can be perfect," the Geographic Information Systems package on the Little Rock School District states.

"The Little Rock geography, its communities of interest, Fourche Creek, Rock Creek, routes of major thoroughfares and other unique shapes weaving through the LRSD present several challenges to designing compact zones.

"The objective was to develop plan options that follow guiding principles of creating electoral geography that rest on legal precedents," it says. "Following these requires an interplay of tug and pull between them. A plan cannot perfectly balance contiguousness, compactness, communities of interest and substantially equal population between each zone."

Jeff Wood, the chairman of the Community Advisory Board -- which makes recommendations to the state's education secretary and otherwise serves as a liaison between the Little Rock School District and the state -- said recently that he was unsure whether the board would attempt to decide on an option this week.

Advisory board member Melanie Fox said Wednesday that she was not yet comfortable with voting on a zone plan. That's in part because there are no street names on the proposals as presented to the advisory board, she said, and also because she wants to hear from members of the public.

"The three sets of criteria they used -- I'm not opposed to them, but what does the public want?" Fox said, adding that she would prefer that there be at least one public forum or a special advisory board meeting so the public can look at the maps and provide input.

Fox, a former member of an elected Little Rock School Board, noted that when establishing zones after the 2010 census, the process started in November 2011 and a final decision was not made until May 2012 -- and that was by a 4-3 vote.

Little Rock Superintendent Mike Poore has said that establishing election zones for the district has to be a priority for the first part of this calendar year.

That's so members of the public can become familiar with the selected election zone plan and so people can decide whether they want to be candidates for election to the board.

Although the election will be in November, the weeklong candidate filing period is at the end of July.

The following are some details about the three election zone plans:

photo
Source: Arkansas GIS office

LOW-VARIANCE PLAN

In the low-variance plan, drawn without regard to keeping neighborhoods and communities of interest together, each zone is made up of about 19,800 residents.

The percentage of black residents in the nine zones ranges from 13.9% to 70.19%. The white population ranges from 13.33% to 77.03% in the nine zones, and the Hispanic population ranges from 1.96% to 19.11%.

Four of the option's nine zones have a black population in excess of 50% and three zones have a white population in excess of 50%.

Two zones do not have any race or ethnic group in excess of 50%.

[Map not showing up above? Click here » arkansasonline.com/123lowvariance/]

photo
Source: Arkansas GIS office

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PLAN

The nine election zones in the elementary attendance zone plan range in population from 19,291 to 20,418.

The percentage of black residents in the zones ranges from 9.91% to 64.86%. The white population ranges from 17.86% to 85.11%, and the percent of Hispanic population ranges from 1.97% to 18.12%.

Five of the zones have black populations in excess of 50% and three have white populations in excess of 50%. One zone does not have any race or ethnic group in excess of 50%.

[Map not showing up above? Click here » arkansasonline.com/123elementary/]

photo
Source: Arkansas GIS office

PRECINCT PLAN

The nine election zones based on clusters of election precincts range in population from 18,895 to 20,692. This plan has more compact election zones than some of the other options. Some of the resulting zones in the plan have fewer schools than other zones.

The general population of the zones in the precinct plan range from 11.08% to 68.57% black; 13.5% to 80.67 % white; and 2.11% to 22.83% Hispanic.

Four of the nine zones would be predominantly white and five of the zones have predominantly black populations, based on the data from the 2010 U.S. census.

[Map not showing up above? Click here » arkansasonline.com/123precinct/]

A Section on 01/23/2020

Print Headline: Election zones for LRSD get attention

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