The Forsyth County Board of Education failed to pass a motion at a called meeting on Monday, Jan. 31, to approve or deny an endorsement of new district lines recommended by the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners.
Commissioners voted to approve the recommendation for the new boundary lines for the county’s five districts at the latest work session, changing recommended lines that were approved in October by both the BOC and BOE.
Three days after the work session, commissioners voted to rescind their original recommendation made in October during a special-called meeting on Friday, Jan. 28.
Before discussing the changes, members of the BOE voted to first review the map from October and their previous approval at the meeting Monday. Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden was not in attendance for the discussion.
Why the BOE approved the October map
During the review, board members said they voted to approve recommended lines in October for a variety of reasons.
They noted the map approved in October meets criteria required by the state. There is equal distribution among the districts with less than 1% difference, and it keeps all sitting officials in their existing districts.
Vice Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey said the October map did not significantly change from the “tried and true” district lines that have been in place for the past 10 years, and it passed what they called the “visual test” — with many of the previous oddly-shaped lines being cleaned up and adjusted.
“Another thing that was different with this map that we liked was it ran all along Ga. 400, so each of the five districts now had, we thought, some skin in the game,” Morrissey said. “Each of us had a little bit of 400, which is a major corridor of the county and a lot where the development goes along. [And] when we do our school zones, we try to not cross over those major barriers.”
Morrissey and District 5 representative Lindsey Adams both said the map approved in October was beneficial for the school system because it remained consistent with school feeder patterns, which are communities of interest for the BOE.
This map would have also moved Lambert High School into District 5 where a major high school is not currently located. Morrissey said this would give each of the county districts at least one high school.
“For those reasons, as we discussed it, we felt that this was a good map,” Morrissey said. “It redistricted and addressed the needs for the population. It was a clean and neat map, and we just felt that was logical. For those reasons, we support the map as the Board of Commissioners did at the time.”
After approving the recommended district lines in October and sending them to the state delegation, additional criteria was added. Morrissey said school board members, commissioners and the delegation had a small group meeting on Jan. 6, to discuss new maps and the new criteria.
“They felt it was worth entertaining the idea to split the city with at least three elected officials,” Morrissey said. “They also wanted a minimum of two members to be in the north, the south and try to have at least two in the east and west.”
Morrissey referred to the idea as a hub and spoke model where the map would center on the city of Cumming.
“I think that’s where we kind of have some concerns,” Morrissey said.
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Their concerns regarding the map changes
Several of the board members said they believe the new district lines approved by the board of commissioners present too drastic of a change to the map. Knowing that district line recommendations must be sent to the Secretary of State later this month, they said more time should have been given for the public’s input.
District 4 representative Darla Light said they were not aware of changes to the criteria or district line recommendations until the January meeting with the state delegation.
“I don’t have a problem with changing the district lines, especially if there’s a good reason,” Light said. “My problem is that the process has been rushed.
“I believe, to change something so radically, we need transparency, citizen input, town halls for discussion and careful consideration from all angles,” she continued. “I don’t think a month is enough time to do our due diligence.”
Without time for community input, Light said she believes the map originally approved in October is the “best option” moving forward.
Adams agreed, saying that while she has positive feedback for both recommended maps, the issue “doesn’t seem in line with the way the board of education functions, which is to take those steps to be able to have community input.”
Board Chairman Wes McCall pointed out that neither the BOC or BOE held public hearings before approving the original district line recommendations in October. He asked the other members if public hearings are common during this process.
Light said, usually, such significant changes are not made to district lines during redistricting, and Adams said the public did have time after the original map was approved in October to provide feedback to the state delegation directly before it would have been finalized.
Morrissey emphasized that the school board and commissioners are recommending bodies during the process. The state delegation has ultimate say over finalized district lines.
McCall said that, as a BOE representative, he is not as concerned with district lines as the county commissioners.
“What I do is I look at the county as a whole,” McCall said. “Yes, I do represent District 1 and the people in District 1 and communicate with them, but every decision I make is not making District 1 better than any other district. When we make a decision, the schools in my district get just as much as in District 5 or 4.
“It doesn’t matter who I represent as long as I’m representing them as best I can, so for the district lines to be moved, to me, it doesn’t concern me at all.”
While Adams and Morrissey agreed, they stood by their assessment that more time should be allowed for the redistricting process.
Decision to not vote on the new map
McCall asked if there was a motion to either approve or deny the BOE’s endorsement of the new district line recommendation approved by commissioners on Jan. 25.
Instead of moving forward with a motion, Morrissey said the map also contained an error. In the map legend, District 2 and District 5 are switched, with District 2 being colored purple.
She believed they should not vote on an unofficial or incorrect map.
“If there is no motion, then it will default back to the map originally approved by the board on Oct. 19,” McCall said.
No other member made a motion, and the motion failed.
Instead, Morrissey made another motion to ask the county commissioners to consider allowing the school board to keep the approved October map while commissioners continue with the new map they approved.
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea or not, but it’s for consideration,” Morrissey said.
There was no second to this motion, and it also failed.