MANLIUS — Bureau Valley School Board members scurried Monday night to meet a state mandate.
“It has come to our attention of late that Bureau Valley apparently has to redistrict,” said Bureau Valley Board President Keith Bolin. “This has never been done in Bureau Valley history.”
When the Buda, Manlius, Sheffield, Walnut and Wyanet communities joined to form the Bureau Valley School District in 1995, one of the priorities was to give each community the chance to be represented on the school board. Instead of electing the school board members at large, seven districts with similar numbers of residents were created to give each community the chance to elect at least one of its own residents to the board.
However, such school districts must redraw their boundary lines after the results of each decennial census are released.
School attorney Jay Greening said he heard about the problem from interim Superintendent Jim Whitmore on Sept. 7.
The problem was that the work had to be done by Sept. 18.
“We had to draw it together quickly,” Greening said.
But it wasn’t a quick process. The district includes 19 townships in three counties, so Greening and fellow attorney Kateah McMasters had to get the property records for each residence in the district. Then they had to compare the property records to the census population records. That task was made more difficult because school district boundaries run along property lines, while census figures are divided into blocks.
Also compounding the problem was that the district had lost several hundred residents overall, but the change wasn’t even, with the greatest change taking place in Concord Township.
The current division has two districts in the north, dividing the village of Walnut. Another large geographic district included the village of Manlius, and two more districts split the village of Wyanet. The sixth district included Sheffield, and the final strangely-shaped district included Buda.
Greening said that to draw the new districts, they talked with Whitmore about the history of the district.
“What became clear from looking at this map was there’s a lot of method to this madness,” Greening said. “We took that history lesson, and we tried to incorporate all of those things.”
Greening then described the proposed new districts. He said they would have preferred to let the board make the decisions, but it wasn’t possible because of the shortage of time.
Board member Don DeWaele stared at the map showing the new division of the village of Walnut.
“You’ve got both of us in the same district,” he said of himself and board member Kent Siltman.
The meeting came to a halt while board members and administrators poured over the maps. Siltman and Roger Craine had their heads together working on a plan, while interim Superintendent Dennis Thompson and board member Rick Cernovich looked at another set of maps.
“This is chaos,” said Bolin.
Bolin said the redistricting situation was being handled by former Superintendent John Bute in December 2011, who was in communication with Greening at that time.
“At some point in December, there was no more communication,” Bolin said.
The problem only came to light on Sept. 7 when Whitmore became aware of it and contacted Greening.
“This has caught me off guard,” Bolin said.
By Tuesday morning, the problem was under control. Thompson said the board approved a redistricting plan at the end of the meeting, but the specifics don’t have to be determined until the end of October.
“As long as it’s filed, we have time to discuss the actual plan,” he said. “This will give us a chance to get it in on time and give the legal counsel time.”
Thompson said he had already spoken with Bureau County Clerk Kami Hieronymus, and she said she wouldn’t be working on the specifics of moving voters until after the November election. The redistricting will not have an impact until the April election, when all school board members will be up for re-election.
Thompson said he had no idea how many of the district’s residents will actually be moved to a new district.
Thompson said it would have been nice for the board to have had more time to evaluate the proposal.
“Last night we’re trying to do this on the fly,” he said.
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Two years or four years?
Also determined at Monday's meeting was the term lengths of the board members. Terms are staggered, so three of the board members will begin with a two-year term, followed by two four-year terms, and the other four districts will have two four-year terms and end with a two-year term before the next redistricting in 2022.
Greening asked Bolin to draw random slips of paper to determine which districts would start with a two year term, and which would start with a four year term. The two-year terms will begin in Districts 1, 3 and 6.