Input sought for drawing Pittsburgh school election boundaries

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In a ritual that takes place every 10 years after the U.S. Census, a reapportionment commission is trying to figure out the best way to redraw boundaries for the nine Pittsburgh school board election districts to reflect population losses.

One of the key questions will be whether the boundaries can be drawn so that three of the nine districts retain a majority of African-Americans, said co-chairman Shawn Carter, chief of staff for city Councilman Ricky Burgess; and attorney Wayne Gerhold, who chaired two previous school reapportionment commissions.

Mr. Carter said the statute establishing the commission calls for it, among other things, to provide for racial balance.

"There's going to be a lot of discussion about what that means and how it can be accomplished," he said.

The seven-member Pittsburgh School Reapportionment Commission, which was appointed last month, is encouraging the public to comment at its meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the John P. Robin Civic Building, Downtown. The commission has met twice but hasn't begun to study possible maps.

Mr. Carter said the commission must file a plan by Nov. 26.

Both Mr. Carter and Mr. Gerhold said the commission is not looking to unseat any school board members by drawing new boundaries that would put two members in the same district.

"If voters want to get rid of you, they can vote you out of office. It should not be the commission's duty to draw them out of office," Mr. Carter said.

The city planning department is in the midst of compiling Census data for the school district, which encompasses Pittsburgh and Mount Oliver.

On Saturday, Mr. Carter said a revised preliminary version late last week gave him hope that more possibilities exist than he initially thought.

The most recent Census results for the school district showed overall population declines, as well as decreases in the numbers of white and black residents.

According to the commission's preliminary data, from 2000 to 2010, the number of school district residents fell from 337,380 to 309,107 -- a decline of 28,273 residents.

Under the old Census data, Mr. Carter said, three districts had a majority of black residents, and they were represented by board members who are black: District 1, represented by Sharene Shealey of North Point Breeze; District 3, Thomas Sumpter of Schenley Heights; and District 8, Mark Brentley Sr., of the North Side.

Another seat, District 2, is held by Regina Holley of Highland Park, who also is black.

As a result of population shifts and declines, the preliminary data show only two districts -- Districts 3 and 8 -- are majority black. If only residents 18 and older are counted, no district at this point appears to have a majority of such residents who are black.

Mr. Carter said, "I believe it will first have to be established there cannot be three [predominantly black districts] before there is a discussion about what the proper number is. I believe the commission will approach this from the do-no-harm philosophy."

Mr. Gerold said he wants to see the possibilities for three districts that are primarily black but also wants to get "community input concerning what the thoughts are about staying with three African-American majorities or going to two stronger African-American majorities. It's a very difficult issue."

The various population shifts have resulted in some school board districts having more residents than others. Under the reapportionment law, the commission must try to make the total population in each district close to the average, which is 34,345 residents in the preliminary data.

In the preliminary data, District 4, represented by Bill Isler, has the largest number of residents above the average.

The reapportionment commission does not include any members from the school board nor is its plan subject to a school board vote, Mr. Carter said.

Three members were appointed by the Pittsburgh mayor, three by Pittsburgh City Council and one by the Mount Oliver mayor.

The three appointed by the Pittsburgh mayor are Mr. Carter; Sherry Brooks, who ran against Ms. Shealey for school board; and Paul McKrell, government affairs manager in the mayor's office.

City council appointed Mr. Gerhold; Mark Masterson, executive director of the Northside Community Development Fund; and Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools.

The Mount Oliver mayor named -- and borough council confirmed -- attorney George R. Farneth II.

education - neigh_city

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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