The average population of the six current voting districts in USD 410 was found to be 713 people. The three voting districts outside the Hillsboro city limits have populations of 440, 549 and 435, while the three districts within the city of Hillsboro have populations of 912, 1,268 and 674.
The legal parameters for a 713 average would be 748 on the high side and 677 on the low side.
To comply with the law, the board first tried to redraw the boundaries of the six original districts. But Superintendent Doug Huxman said the resulting boundaries created “chaos” instead of clarity.
The board then exercised its legal option to change the number of voting districts in order to meet the requirements of the law.
“Some districts have gone totally with at-large (representation), but our board preferred maintaining both rural and city representation,” Huxman said.
Instead of having six districts, the board opted for three. Such a change requires the approval of the district patrons.
The proposal combines the rural territory outside Hillsboro city limits into one district that has a population of 1,424 people. Hillsboro was then divided into two districts, one with a population of 1,382 and the other with a population of 1,472.
Unfortunately, Huxman said, the board could not meet the population requirements within the existing East and West precinct designations within the city of Hillsboro.
“We wanted to work with the city and make the wards the same,” he said. “But the law won’t allow them to make changes now. So we couldn’t coordinate that.
“In order to get the numbers to fit, we had to make some changes on our own. If the city later feels like it wants to follow those, that will be up to them.”
One reason the existing precinct boundaries don’t work is that the state requires representation based on population rather than registered voters.
As a result, some 385 Tabor College students were counted as residents, but only a small minority would be registered to vote locally or have a stake in the public schools as homeowners.
Huxman said if voters decide not to approve the new district designations, the school board will go back to the drawing board.
“That’s going to be difficult,” Huxman said. “You can’t split this district into six voting districts unless you combine the city and the country and start slicing the pie in odd ways.
“It would be a mess.”
Impact on current members
If the proposed plan is approved, Huxman said it will take two election cycles to make the adjustment regarding current board members.
Currently, Gary Andrews, Eddie Weber and Brent Barkman represent the three city districts; Debbie Geis, Dale Klassen and Mark Rooker represent the three rural districts; Rod Koons is the member at large.
All three of the current “city” representatives come up for reelection in spring 2009; the three “rural” members, and the member at large, come up for reelection in spring 2011.
Because, by state law, the term length of board members cannot be shortened, and the election cycle of members cannot be changed, “it will be interesting” to adjust current representation with the new model, Huxman said.
If all seven current board members would decide to seek another term when their respective seats come due, all seven could be accommodated, however.
In 2009, Weber and Barkman, who live within District 2, could file for those two seats; Andrews lives in District 3 and could file for a seat in that district.
In 2011, two of the three rural representatives could file for the two seats in District 1 and the third one could run for the at-large position. Koons, the current at-large representative, could file for the open seat in District 3.
Huxman said he has no indication yet that all—or any—of the current board members plan to run for another term.
The board will likely bring up the redistricting proposal occasionally during upcoming board meetings, Huxman said, but members of the public can attend any meeting to ask questions.