Last week – following the most recent craziness in the General Assembly – I posted a long piece on Chapelboro calling for redistricting reform at the state level.
(Upshot: rather than letting state legislators draw our legislative district lines every 10 years, we should take the power out of their hands and give it to an independent, nonpartisan commission. State legislators have a personal and partisan interest in drawing the lines to favor themselves and their party – so let’s put the power in the hands of people who don’t have a personal interest, so they can focus on what’s best for North Carolinians as a whole.)
The state legislature hasn’t acted, naturally – doing so would require them to give up some of their own power, and that’s a hard thing for anyone to do – but there is definitely widespread support for redistricting reform across party lines. Democrats, Republicans, and independents all favor it by wide margins.
It’s something we ought to do.
But while we’re on the subject…
How about redistricting reform at the local level too?
We’ve got an election this year for four open seats on the Orange County Board of Commissioners…and if you don’t know, we’ve got a pretty complicated system for electing them.
Time was, all of the seats on the Board were at-large seats, meaning everyone in the county voted for every seat. (This is still how we do it for our town boards.)
But that was unfair to residents of northern Orange County: because most of Orange County’s population was concentrated in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, the entire board invariably wound up being comprised of Chapel Hill/Carrboro folks who represented Chapel Hill/Carrboro interests and weren’t as concerned with rural issues. Agriculture? Solid waste? Rural bus routes? Residents in northern Orange didn’t have much of a voice.
So last decade, the county changed its election system. Orange County divided itself into two districts, split along roughly the same line as the county’s two school districts: Chapel Hill and Carrboro in District 1, the rest of the county in District 2. Now we have seven county commissioners: two of them are still at-large, elected by everybody, but there are three commissioners who specifically represent District 1 and two who specifically represent District 2.
Thing is, the county didn’t go all the way when it split into districts. Residents of District 1 and 2 get to choose their own party nominees in the primary election – but in the November general election, it’s still all at-large. Everybody votes in all seven races, regardless of where in the county they live.
Why is this?
It’s better today than it was before: once upon a time the entire board was Chapel Hill/Carrboro, and today folks in northern Orange do have two spots on the board reserved for them. It’s a step in the right direction. (And this year it doesn’t really matter: since all the candidates are Democrats, all of this year’s races are going to be decided in the primary anyway.)
But should Orange County go all the way? Let District 1 and District 2 elect their own representatives in the primary and the general election? There’s something to be said for the at-large system – our elected officials really ought to be considering the needs and interests of everyone in the county, no matter what – but it’s undeniably true that certain issues affect northern and southern Orange County differently, and that will be the case no matter how we elect our representatives. Should both districts have their own independent say?
I spoke with Orange County conservative Ashley DeSena this week, and both of us agreed on the need for state and local reform. Listen to our conversation.http://chapelboro.com/featured/redistricting-reform-state-and-local
The redistricting saga in North Carolina may not be over, even after new Congressional maps were adopted and a new primary date was set last week.
The North Carolina NAACP is not impressed with the newly configured Congressional districts churned out by the North Carolina General Assembly during the middle of last week.
North Carolina NAACP President Dr. William Barber said that the chaos surrounding the new Congressional primary set for June began with the district maps drawn in 2011.
“It is important for us to note that this entire problem started when extremists, under the leadership of [State Senate President] Phil Berger and [then-House Speaker and now U.S. Senator] Thom Tillis, passed the worst unconstitutional redistricting plans that we had seen in North Carolina since the 19th century,” Barber said at a news conference on Monday.
Barber referred to the 2011 map as “apartheid redistricting.”
“You should have never seen this level of stacking and packing and bleaching of black and minority voters for political advantage,” Barber said.
After a federal court ruled that two of North Carolina’s Congressional districts were unconstitutional and mandated lawmakers redraw the districts, state leaders asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay. That request was denied. Barber said that when the NAACP is praising a court led by John Roberts, that speaks to the extent of the issues with the previous maps.
“That the Roberts court that overturned the Voting Rights Act Section 4 – that court, that we have deep issues with – would in our case say to our state Supreme Court, ‘You didn’t ask the right questions about race,’” Barber said.
So now NAACP attorney Irv Joyner says that the group is asking the federal court to quickly hear arguments regarding the legality of the new Congressional renderings and issue a ruling before filing opens in mid-March for the newly-set Congressional primary date, June 7.
U.S. District Judge William Osteen served on the three-judge panel that struck down the 1st and 12th Congressional districts, and he has now ordered that Joyner and the plaintiffs file objections to the new maps and the primary schedule by Monday, February 29. The state would then have until the following Monday, March 7, to respond. And the plaintiffs would have a rebuttal window through March 9.
Joyner said at the Monday press conference that they would request the federal panel draw their own district map. Osteen instead directed the attorneys to file the objections, according to the Associated Press.
North Carolinians will vote in a March 15 primary for races including President, Governor, U.S. Senate and local elections.
If the new maps and Congressional primary date go unaltered, it would be held in early June.http://chapelboro.com/featured/new-congressional-maps-will-be-argued-before-federal-court
See what happens? The General Assembly comes back in session for one week and now we’ve got a Congressman living in somebody else’s district, two different dates for two different primaries, a whole new filing period for an election cycle that began months ago, and a new set of Congressional district lines that resolves almost none of the problems that started this whole fiasco in the first place.
Isn’t it time for North Carolina to end gerrymandering forever?
In case you haven’t been following the saga – or in case all the rapid developments have left you utterly confused – here’s where we are today.
So, to sum up: you now have two primaries to vote in, not just one. There’s a good chance you just got moved to a new district, for the second time in five years. Candidates who’ve already spent thousands of dollars running for office now have to go back to square one and start again. One incumbent who represents District A now lives in District B and is planning to run in District C. Naturally lawmakers blamed the judges for all this, but the court wouldn’t have stepped in at all if the GA hadn’t drawn the map in such a cockamamie way in the first place.
Oh, and there’s almost certainly going to be another lawsuit challenging this map too, so we may have to do this all over again in two years.
Here’s what the old map looked like. Check out that ridiculous 12th district! You could throw a bowling ball in district 8 and it would land in district 5.
Here’s the new map, looking better with a revised 12th…but still a crazy-shaped 4th, and a 13th that’s magically leaped from east of Raleigh to west of Greensboro. There are two sitting members of Congress who now live in the 13th, and neither one of them is the guy who actually represents that district.
Still with me?
Ready for the best part?
For all the scurrying and last-second maneuvering this week, lawmakers did absolutely nothing to fix the one problem that caused all this chaos in the first place.
In fact they explicitly went out of their way to avoid doing so.
On Friday, while details were still being finalized, I spoke with NC Central School of Law professor (and Carrboro Mayor) Lydia Lavelle. Here’s our conversation.
The issue that started this whole mess is partisan gerrymandering. Why, in 2011, did the General Assembly vote to approve a plan that packed black voters into two districts? Because the GA was controlled by Republicans, and they were trying to create as many Republican-majority districts as possible. This is not speculation: we know this is true because they said it was true. (And Democrats did the same thing when they controlled the GA. We’ve been through this exact same fiasco three decades in a row.)
The 15th Amendment bans racial gerrymandering, but the Constitution doesn’t explicitly forbid states from privileging one party over another – so naturally, just about every state does it. If Party A controls the state legislature, lawmakers draw the district lines to “pack” Party B’s voters together into as few districts as possible. They’re really good at it, too. When Republicans got to redraw North Carolina’s lines after the 2010 census, they packed Democrats together so effectively that in 2012, the GOP won nine of the state’s 13 Congressional seats even though Democrats got more votes overall.
Partisan gerrymandering makes an absolute mockery of democracy. Everybody knows it and everybody freely admits it. But as long as there’s no law against it – and as long as state lawmakers are in charge of drawing their own district lines – they have every incentive to keep doing it, in order to keep themselves and their party in power.
And because partisan lines are often racial lines too – blacks tend to vote Democratic, whites tend to vote Republican – then every time the GOP tries to pack Democrats into one or two districts, they’re going to end up packing black voters into one or two districts as well. Which means more lawsuits, more uncertainty, and more chaos. Every. Single. Time.
(This is true no matter which party controls the process, by the way. Democrats ran the show when the 2000 census came in, and the resulting legal fight didn’t wrap up until 2009.)
Did the GOP learn its lesson? Good Lord, of course not. This week, when the GA asked lawmakers to draw a new map, they also directed those lawmakers to make sure to preserve that 10-3 Republican majority. (Seriously, they took a vote on it and everything.) One Republican this week said he was only supporting a 10-3 GOP majority because there didn’t seem to be a way to make it 11-2. (Seriously, he said that in public.)
This is completely bonkers.
Is there a way to fix it?
Yes, as it turns out. It’s actually really easy: partisan gerrymandering exists because state lawmakers have the power to draw their own district lines – so the way to fix the problem is simply to give that power to somebody else.
There is a proposal on the table to create an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission. Every ten years, after each new census, this commission would be in charge of redrawing the boundaries for North Carolina’s State House, State Senate, and U.S. House districts.
No partisan bias. No inadvertent racial discrimination.
Fourteen other states already do it this way.
In North Carolina, the push for independent redistricting is being led by the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. Earlier this week, I spoke with the Coalition’s director, Jane Pinsky.
Do North Carolinians support this plan?
Yes, they do. A survey from Public Policy Polling, just released this week, found that 59 percent of North Carolina voters support an independent redistricting commission – compared with only 9 percent who oppose it. Voters across the political spectrum are all in favor: 65 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of independents, and 54 percent of Republicans all approve this plan. (Only 6 percent of Democrats, 12 percent of independents, and 11 percent of Republicans are opposed.)
Just how unpopular is partisan redistricting? Last year, PPP found that more North Carolinians actually approve of man-eating sharks than the current redistricting system.
Okay, so how about state legislators? Do they support this plan?
Yes they do too, as it turns out. Even though it would mean they’d have to give up power, there’s actually fairly strong support for independent redistricting in the General Assembly, among Democrats and Republicans alike. Naturally support for reform is always greater among the minority party – Democrats tend to be more in favor of it today, while Republicans were more supportive back when the Dems were in control. But high-ranking Republicans, including Skip Stam, joined high-ranking Democrats together on the podium last year at a much-ballyhooed press conference to renew the push for redistricting reform – and in 2011 the State House actually approved a reform bill.
How about think tanks? Liberal? Conservative?
Yep, they all support it too. That press conference last year had people together from NC Policy Watch (liberal), the Pope Foundation (conservative) and the John Locke Foundation (conservative/libertarian). All in favor.
So why don’t we have an independent redistricting commission?
This is State Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. He’s in charge of deciding which bills get brought up for a vote on the Senate floor – and he has made it clear that he has no intention of letting the Senate vote on this.
(And after this week? He said he hasn’t changed his mind. But you knew that already.)
So after all that, here’s where we stand: total electoral chaos in North Carolina that’s only just now beginning to subside…two primaries scheduled in the next four months…a completely redrawn Congressional map for the second time this decade…candidates scrambling to file to run in all new districts…the looming prospect of another round of lawsuits…and an easy solution that North Carolinians overwhelmingly want, which lawmakers flatly refuse to consider.
It’s good to see, when it comes to legislative incompetence, Raleigh is still managing to keep pace with Washington.
If you want to know more about the fight to end gerrymandering (partisan, racial, or otherwise) and enact real redistricting reform, visit EndGerrymanderingNow.org.http://chapelboro.com/news/end-gerrymandering-now
***UPDATE: The U.S. Supreme Court has denied the request to stay the federal court’s ruling regarding the new Congressional maps.***
North Carolina voters will likely head to the polls three times in 2016.
The March 15 primary is quickly approaching and North Carolina lawmakers have been in session this week redrawing Congressional maps after a federal court ruled the 2011 renderings were unconstitutional.
The state House and Senate have now approved new Congressional districts, which they say comply with the law. Opponents of the new districts say that the new drawings are still illegal because they pack black voters into certain districts.
Leaders in the North Carolina legislature have asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of the federal court mandate, but the nation’s high court has yet to respond.
Friday was the deadline issued by the federal court for new districts to be approved.
Since district maps do not have to be approved by Governor Pat McCrory, the new renderings became law upon the approval from both the House and the Senate.
The new districts have altered the shape and range of nearly all of North Carolina’s 13 districts, leaving those running for the U.S. House of Representatives scrambling.
The March 15 primary will be held and voters will cast their ballots in the party races for President, Senate, Governor and local elections.
Voters will be asked to go back to the polls in the Congressional primary on June 7, if a stay is not granted.
If a stay is not issued by the March 15 primary, a second filing period will be opened to file for the U.S. House of Representatives. If the U.S. Supreme Court issues a stay, all races will be held during the March 15 primary.http://chapelboro.com/featured/nc-general-assembly-adopts-new-maps
***UPDATE: The three-judge panel rejected the request to stay the decision that two districts are unconstitutional. That ruling was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.***
Officials with the State of North Carolina filed an emergency petition on Monday to stay a decision from a panel of three federal judges that ruled two of North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutional.
The ruling came down late Friday and ordered lawmakers to redraw the 1st and 12th district by February 19.
State Senator Bob Rucho and Representative David Lewis, two architects of the latest districts, issued a joint statement Monday saying:
“We trust the federal trial court was not aware an election was already underway and surely did not intend to throw our state into chaos by nullifying ballots that have already been sent out and votes that have already been cast. We hope the court will realize the serious and far-reaching ramifications of its unprecedented, eleventh-hour action and immediately issue a stay.”
The State Supreme Court upheld the maps in late December.
North Carolina voting maps have been a heated topic of debate for years as lawmakers of the controlling party have been legally allowed to draw maps that favor the reelection of members of their party.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers presented a bill in 2015 that would have created an independent redistricting commission, as has been done in other states, but the bill moved nowhere.
Jane Pinsky is the director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. She spoke with WCHL’s Blake Hodge about the decision and what it means for North Carolina voters going forward.
Pinsky says residents can sign a petition against gerrymandering or call her office at (919) 833-0092 for more information.http://chapelboro.com/featured/nc-lawmakers-ask-for-stay-in-redistricting-ruling
The numbers are in: more North Carolinians approve of sharks than oppose redistricting reform or background checks for gun purchases.
That’s the result of the latest state survey from Public Policy Polling. PPP pollsters asked about sharks in the wake of this summer’s spike in shark attacks. Most North Carolinians don’t have an opinion about sharks one way or another, but 15 percent say they see them favorably (versus 22 percent who don’t like them).
Compare that to our views on universal background checks for gun purchases: 86 percent of NC voters say they support them, against only 10 percent who are opposed.
North Carolinians are almost equally sold on the proposal to put a nonpartisan committee in charge of redrawing legislative district lines. More voters are undecided on this one, but those who have made up their minds are almost all in favor of it: 55 percent support nonpartisan redistricting, while only 10 percent, again, are opposed.
(According to the survey, both nonpartisan redistricting and background checks enjoy widespread support across party lines. In fact, Republican voters are less likely to oppose nonpartisan redistricting than Democrats are – even though nonpartisan redistricting would presumably benefit Democrats at a time when the GOP controls the legislature.)
PPP director Tom Jensen spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.
Other results from the PPP survey:
Republicans are evenly split, but in general, most North Carolinans (by a 54-28 margin) say that states should go along with Supreme Court decisions, like them or not (rather than resist, as some state and local officials are trying to do with same-sex marriage).
North Carolinians are more split on the Confederate flag: 38 percent support continuing to fly it; 48 percent are opposed.
The General Assembly remains unpopular, with only 20 percent approving – but voters disapprove of Democratic legislators just as much as Republicans. Democrats lead the generic ballot, 46-42, but that’s a smaller lead than they held at this point two years ago – and not nearly big enough to have any hope of retaking control of the GA.
And back to sharks: notwithstanding the scary headlines, the vast majority (82%) of North Carolinians who typically travel to the beach say the recent wave of shark attacks will have no impact on their travel plans. (Interestingly, there is a partisan divide here: 20 percent of Democrats say they’re less likely to go into the water, versus only 9 percent of Republicans. PPP director Tom Jensen says he has no idea why that is.)
The Supreme Court has thrown out a North Carolina court ruling that upheld Republican-drawn electoral districts for state and congressional lawmakers.
The justices on Monday ordered the state Supreme Court to consider anew whether the North Carolina legislature relied too heavily on race when it redrew voting districts following the 2010 census.
The high court issued a similar ruling last month involving a complaint from black Alabama Democrats that the Republican-dominated legislature illegally packed black voters into too few voting districts.
In Alabama, the justices said a lower court used the wrong test when it upheld legislative districts and determined that race was not the primary motivating factor in drawing boundary lines.
The Supreme Court said judges in North Carolina must revisit their ruling in light of the Alabama decision.http://chapelboro.com/news/national/supreme-court-orders-review-of-north-carolina-redistricting
A plan for redistricting in North Carolina is once again being put forward by state lawmakers.
A bipartisan group of legislators, from the House and Senate, held a press conference at noon on Tuesday. The purpose was to put forward a proposal to change how voting maps are drawn in the Tar Heel state.
The debate over redistricting in North Carolina has raged on for more than a century. For years Democrats controlled the state legislature, and they drew maps that were favorable to the election of more Democrats. And that was deemed legal by the court system.
During that time, Republicans, and some Democrats, repeatedly called for lawmakers to conceive of a more fair system for how the maps are drawn. Now that Republicans are in control of the state House and Senate, the roles have reversed.
But long-time Republican House Representative Skip Stam says he will introduce a bill that calls for an independent commission to draw the voting maps in the state.
“The idea is that, in constructing districts, the people with the most at stake,” he says, “are probably ones who shouldn’t be doing the details.”
Stam’s proposal would be enacted before the next maps are drawn in 2021.
Stam says an opportunity has presented itself that may be the best chance for the bill to actually pass into law, because there is no pending litigation regarding the current maps.
Republican Representative Charlie Jeter says he and Democratic Senator Jeff Jackson will also be introducing a bill concerning redistricting.
“Our bill won’t go into effect until after the 2030 election cycle, in large part because it grandfathers everyone out,” he says. “To some degree, I think this is about getting the bill passed.”
Democratic Representative Grier Martin says his district, because it is heavily Democratic, is a prime example of what is causing some voters to stay home from the polls.
Martin adds passing a bipartisan redistricting bill would be a big step toward restoring North Carolinians faith in the state government.
Republican Representative John Hardister echoes the sentiment of many conservative leaders at the press conference, saying gerrymandering districts is bad policy – regardless of which party benefits.
“Many Republicans, including myself, advocated for redistricting reform when Democrats were in the majority,” he says. “It was the right thing to do then, and it’s still the right thing to do today.”
John Hood, with the conservative Pope Foundation, says the policy should move forward because it benefits the residents of North Carolina.
“It’s important for all of us in North Carolina to get the policy right,” he says. “I’m sure that redistricting reformers would welcome additional alternatives; as long as they were consistent with the principal that neutral rules should be our tactic, and competitive elections should be our end.”
Voters were the topic of conversation as well for Chris Fitzsimon of the progressive organization NC Policy Watch.
“This is not all the complicated,” he says. “The idea is to create a system where voters choose their politicians, instead of the other way around.”
Even with the bipartisan backing of this bill, it is not set in stone that it will move forward. Republican Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has previously said he would not consider the legislation while litigation was ongoing.
Mitch Kokai is the Director of Communication for the conservative John Locke Foundation, and he says – even though the litigation has reached a conclusion – there is no guarantee Senator Berger will bring the legislation before the Senate, regardless of what the House does.
“[Berger] hasn’t come out and said ‘heck no, we’re never going to do it,’” Kokai says. “But he also hasn’t come out and said ‘oh yes, we’re going to go along with this now.’”
Ellie Kinnaird represented Orange and Chatham Counties in the North Carolina Senate, as a Democrat, from 1997 – 2013, and she recalls trying to pass a redistricting campaign when her fellow Democrats were in control of the House and Senate.
“I introduced a bill, under the Democrats, for an independent redistricting campaign,” she says. “They thought they were going to be in power forever, why would they do it? I introduced it under the Republicans, and the same thing happened.
“So, I’m very encouraged that the House, last term, actually did pass an independent redistricting bill. But I’m afraid that Mr. Berger will never relent in the Senate. He will not let that go through.”
Kinnaird adds, as long as large donors are allowed to bring about campaigns similar to what North Carolinians saw with the US Senate race between Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan, she is not expecting anything to change.
“The money is going to be crucial,” she says. “As the money pours in, it just solidifies the system.
“I don’t see any hope for the near future for North Carolina. I think that, frankly, it’s going to take 49 states enacting it before we enact it.”
The next North Carolina voting maps will be drawn in 2021, following the 2020 census. Whether they will be drawn with a partisan pen or through the eyes of an independent committee remains to be seen.
WCHL has requested a statement from Senator Phil Berger following the press conference but have not received a response at this time.http://chapelboro.com/news/state-government/lawmakers-set-introduce-bipartisan-redistricting-reform
Drawing the congressional map in North Carolina has been a topic of debate, in conversation and in courtrooms, for decades.
The latest rendition of the North Carolina congressional district map is constitutional, according to a State Supreme Court ruling. State Republican lawmakers are responsible for the latest depiction of the districts; the GOP drew the map in 2011, after the last census in 2010. The legal challenge to the map’s constitutionality may not be done, as an appeal to the US Supreme Court is likely. There have been 27 judicial interventions in North Carolina’s drawing of congressional districts in the last 30 years, according to the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.
Listen to the full segment here:
Jane Pinsky is the director of that organization; she says the challenge to the previous district drawing was followed by a particularly long legal battle, “The 2001 redistricting finished with a lawsuit that was decided in 2009.”
Pinsky says partisan drawings have been the standard in the Tar Heel state. And drawing the map for political gain is technically legal, according to court rulings.
Kareem Crayton is an Associate Professor of Law at UNC; he says that the close ties between race and politics in North Carolina lead to a challenge that most states do not face.
“Is there a way to tease apart this purported concern with race and perhaps hyper-partisanship,” he asks, “in a way that makes a lot of sense to people and, frankly, keeps both the Democrats and Republicans at bay?”
One suggestion has been to look to other states as a model, one in particular being Iowa. Pinsky says their formula is developed by a professional staff and then voted on by legislators.
Professor Crayton adds that many states are looking at Iowa’s model, but there are some inherent issues.
“Iowa, by comparison, is not as ethnically and racially diverse as most other states in the union,” he says. “Certainly among states in the South, where there is a significant African-American population in the state electorate.”
Some states have taken pieces of the Iowa formula and molded it to fit their state’s needs. Ohio has created a new system for drawing their districts, which involves an independent commission drawing the map.
Pinsky says to get to a point where North Carolina deviates from the current formula of the dominant party having ultimate power over the drawings – and the seemingly endless legal battles associated with that –legislators will have to give up their power for drawing the congressional map.
She adds that state house lawmakers have agreed to a plan to move toward a new system on multiple occasions, but senate legislators have refused to move on the plan while litigation is ongoing.
Professor Crayton says that some other states have been successful in taking the power of drawing the map out of the legislator’s hand and allowing the citizens to decide on the congressional districts through a voter referendum.
“When the public gets mad enough and organized enough,” he says, “there usually is an effort to think creatively about a system that can stand any alternative.”
The possibility exists that the lawsuit over North Carolina’s congressional map could be combined with a similar suit out of Alabama and be brought before the US Supreme Court.
Regardless of any legal decision, the next time the lines will be put on a map of the Tar Heel state will be in 2021.
Whether that drawing will remain under our current system or if it will be subject to new – possibly less partisan – guidelines, remains to be seen.http://chapelboro.com/news/election/redistricting-continues-stir-legal-battle-nc
CHAPEL HILL- The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board voted 6-1 Thursday to expand the Mandarin dual language program at Glenwood Elementary and keep access to the program open to all students in the district via a lottery system.
Board Vice-Chair Mia Burroughs said the value of dual language education extends beyond the local community.
“I consider it a gift to the country, frankly, to have bilingual and multilingual children, particularly in Mandarin,” said Burroughs.
The vote means 76 families at Glenwood will need to be redistricted to alleviate overcrowding due to growth in the dual language program and increased enrollment in the school’s attendance zone.
More than 100 parents turned out Thursday night to ask the school board to put to rest the recent uncertainty about the future of the Mandarin program, but parents differed widely on what they saw as the best solution.
Those with students in the program touted the merit of dual language education. Pam Caswell told the school board the program has changed the way her son approaches learning.
“There is a rumor that it serves only the 156 most high-achieving students, and I am here to tell you different,” said Caswell. “My son did not enter Glenwood above average. He has become high-achieving because of the daily effort we put into his studies.”
But parents outside the program argued it costs too much and serves too few. Heather Kunmick labeled it an unnecessary expense in a tight budget year.
“When I’m sending in hundreds and hundreds of dollars of supplies because in October teachers are out of copy paper and my daughter’s art class doesn’t have enough pencils or erasers and my child’s kindergarten class doesn’t have glue sticks, how can we continue to pour money into something that serves such a small percentage of the population?” asked Kunmick.
School board members cautioned against singling out any one program for cuts, and reiterated their support for expanding Mandarin dual language instruction, saying expansion of the program will lower per-pupil expenses.
“The reason we expanded it is not only do we think this a really important program, it’s to bring the cost down,” said Burroughs. “We need to make the program load-bearing, to fill those classrooms so there aren’t extra-small classrooms in fourth and fifth grade.”
But the board wrestled with how and where the program should grow. In the long term, the district could open a new dual language magnet that would house the Mandarin program, but for now, any expansion of the program means non-dual language learners will need to be redistricted to make room for new Mandarin students.
Board members also struggled with the purpose of the program, noting that it’s evolved from instruction to help those with limited English to more of an immersion program for English-speaking students. Annetta Streater said it’s not fulfilling its original purpose.
“I am very much disappointed that what was meant to be a support for students who are not native English speakers is no longer that,” said Streater. “So that brings up another concern- are we doing what we’re supposed to be doing to support students who actually do need consistent instruction and intervention to acquire English?”
The board voted 6-1 to redistrict 76 non-dual language families and add a second first grade classroom to the Mandarin program, which will remain at Glenwood for at least the next year.
Though spot-redistricting offers a short-term solution to temporarily ease Glenwood’s overcrowding, there’s no clear consensus on what to do with the Mandarin program in the future. Board members agreed to hire a consultant to examine the long-term options, with an eye toward implementing a solution by 2015.http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/chccs-school-board-backs-mandarin-dual-language-expansion