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East County Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021 6 months ago

School Board of Manatee County discusses redistricting

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School board members drawing up new zones for districts.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

When James Golden runs for reelection to the School Board of Manatee County in 2022, he will be campaigning to about 75,000 constituents in District 5 rather than residents across the county.

Next year’s school board election will feature a major change. Residents of certain districts will only be allowed to vote for the board member representing that district. Those districts will be redrawn as the board works through the process in November and early December. 

In 2018, Manatee County voters approved a referendum that changed the school board to single-member representation.

Board members Gina Messenger and Mary Foreman have said they don’t agree with the election change because board members should represent all students, not just those that live in their respective districts.

“No matter where somebody lives, our job is to represent everybody,” Messenger said. “While I live in Parrish and represent part of Parrish and part of Palmetto, if somebody contacts me, and they live in northwest Bradenton, I’m going to respond and help them because that’s my job.”

District seats that are up for election in 2022 are the District 2 seat held by Charlie Kennedy, the District 4 seat held by Chad Choate and the District 5 seat held by James Golden, who represents the Lakewood Ranch area and part of East County. Kennedy already has decided he will not be running for reelection; Golden said he plans to run again. Choate, who was appointed to the school board in 2021 after Scott Hopes resigned to become the Manatee County administrator, plans to run in 2022.

Voters should know their district by the Dec. 14 school board meeting.

The board had its first discussion regarding redistricting during a workshop Oct. 29. Although members of the school board would like to have district boundaries that match the ones the Manatee County commissioners create so residents aren’t confused, there is no requirement for the maps to match.

“The reality is that as opposed to us being public education animals, the county commissioners by definition are political animals,” Golden said. “They serve up a thorough multiplicity of needs of their constituents, which may or may not be consistent with the school board. I think that needs to be the least of our considerations and concerns. I think we have an opportunity here to draw districts that would allow us to continue at least throughout the next set of terms but also to draw districts that are more consistent with the growth that we know is coming.”

Board members Kennedy, Foreman and Choate created their own maps that were presented.

Each board member wanted to have about 80,000 residents in districts 2, 3, and 4 with districts 1 and 5, which cover the eastern part of Manatee County, having fewer residents due to the tremendous growth developing in that part of the county.

Choate developed his map based on the community of the schools that would be represented in each district. Choate wanted to have a school board member to represent at least one of the School District of Manatee County’s seven high schools.

“My biggest concern has always been to have some kind of representative at those high school levels because the elementary and middle schools feed into those high schools typically,” Choate said. “(I want) to make sure each community of high schools feels like they are represented by one person that they could go to for concerns.”

Messenger said she liked the idea of having the districts separated by communities but worried it could lead to board members pushing to represent the interests of their own districts over the county as a whole.

“I want to point out that we are a district of choice, so no matter where somebody lives, they can choose to go somewhere else,” Messenger said.

Kennedy said another issue with districting by community is some families will be zoned for a particular school but live in a different district. For example, some families in Greyhawk Landing are zoned for Lakewood Ranch High School, which is in District 5, but live in District 1.

Golden wanted the district boundaries to reflect community interests and ensure District 2 continues to have a majority of people who are minorities.

The board tweaked Kennedy’s map, which was similar to Foreman’s, to allow for more minority representation in District 2 and District 4 while keeping a lower population in districts 1 and 5.

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