The Cherokee County School District on Thursday responded to Hamilton’s proposal, adding it was unclear on the details.
In an email on behalf of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo addressed to Hamilton, schools spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said the district hopes the delegation would consider using the proposed map drawn by the Cherokee County Board of Education last year as well as sticking to the principles on reapportionment State Rep. Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs) handed out at a December town hall meeting.
At press time, Hamilton had not returned phone calls to discuss whether or not the seven school board members will be elected by posts or at-large or whether they would revise the proposed posts boundaries.
House Bill 978 originally called for changing the school board make up from seven members elected countywide to six members elected by voters in their respective posts.
It also implements a school board chairperson who would be elected countywide. School board members now choose the chair at the first meeting of the calendar year.
Jerguson said Thursday that Hamilton is in the midst of drafting the compromise bill and the delegation will take up the matter when the Georgia General Assembly convenes into session on Monday.
The changes to the legislation to redistrict and restructure school board posts came following comments by an accrediting agency, which labeled the proposed HB 978 as “highly irregular.”
It also comes on the heels of a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal by School Board Chair Mike Chapman urging the governor to veto the plan, which he called, “a vendetta led by the Cherokee County Legislative Delegation.”
The district’s map, Jacoby added in her email on Thursday, is “in keeping with these principles,” such as having near equal population in each post, mirroring the boundaries of the county and precincts, keeps communities of interests intact and avoids unpairing incumbents.
The school district’s map, Jacoby said, not only is in the “best interest of the community as a whole for equal and fair representation,” but also corrects “the public perception that the delegation is using its reapportionment role to carry out what has been described as a vendetta.”
That perception, the statement added, is “very strong, is growing and could negatively impact your fellow delegation’s ability to serve the community as they have in the past.”
“It also may be beneficial for one or more of the delegation members who live in Cherokee to take over the role as bill author and spokesperson, as public perception is that the legislators who live in Cherokee are again playing politics—the perception is that they are behind the redrawing, but you are the spokesman, since you will not be seeking election in the county this year and they will,” she added to Hamilton, who will no longer represent Cherokee County under his own newly redistricted state house seat lines.
The school district contends its map features seven posts with population differences of less than 0.2 percent, or 58 people.
The delegation map, it adds, has six posts with population differences greater than 1.9 percent, or 686 people.
“While the delegation has made reference to 1 percent and 2 percent deviation limits, the State Office of Reapportionment has advised local governments, including the Cherokee County School District, that the U.S. Department of Justice expects no population difference between posts, especially when the election method is being changed, as the delegation has said it plans to do from at-large to post only,” Jacoby said in the statement.
The school district also points out the delegation’s map’s “glaring inconsistencies,” such as the “deliberate diversion” of using Interstate 575 and Highway 92 as boundary lines, splitting up the BridgeMill neighborhood, inconsistent school and feeder attendance zones and “the excessive splitting of precincts, the most notable example of gerrymandering in this regard is with the Governors Walk neighborhood in Canton, which by no means coincidentally is the residence of School Board Chairman Mike Chapman.
“This gerrymandering, as a result, also violates the principle of avoiding the unnecessary pairing of incumbents through the drawing of Mr. Chapman into the same post as Robert Wofford and through the drawing of Vice Chairwoman Janet Read into the same post as Rick Steiner,” Jacoby said.
Jerguson, who said he had not read Jacoby’s statements, added the delegation has been nothing short of responsive to the district and public’s concerns lodged at them.
“I think the delegation has proven that it has listened to what people want throughout the entire process,” he said, referring to the delegation’s town hall meetings and appointment of a Blue Ribbon Committee as well as the latest changes.
Both state Reps. Calvin Hill (R-Hickory Flat) and Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock) said the letter from the president of the accrediting agency for the school district weighed heavily in their decision to support Hamilton’s proposal.
Dr. Mark Elgart, president and CEO of AdvancEd, which is the international registry for accreditation and includes the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement, or SACS CASI, wrote in a letter on Tuesday expressing concerns about having a school board chair elected countywide.
Hill said that while other districts in the state elect school board chairs countywide, he said the delegation didn’t want to take any chances with the possibility of the district’s accreditation being in jeopardy.
“If it’s the best for the Cherokee County school system and their accreditation, then we are going to go with it,” he said.