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District voting for Fayette BoE is a done deal: judge approves settlement

It’s official: A federal judge’s signature Friday has made district voting for all posts on the Fayette County Board of Education the law of the land.

The consent decree proposal to settle the 2011 federal lawsuit filed by the Fayette County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People against the Fayette County Board of Education to institute district voting has been signed by U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr.

The judge’s Feb. 24 order followed a 3-2 vote by the school board on Jan. 9 to settle the suit and agree to district voting, which will replace at-large voting for all posts.

Left hanging is the same NAACP lawsuit against the Fayette County Commission. The county recently filed a map consisting of five districts, all with at-large voting.

The judge’s approval means that four of the five members of the school board will face voters this year, including Post 5, now held by appointee Leonard Presberg.

As ordered by Judge Batten, the consent decree states that, “The parties have agreed upon a single-member redistricting plan that provides an equal opportunity for Blacks to elected candidates of their choice to the Board of Education in District 5, in which Blacks comprise 48.68 percent of the total population and 46.2 percent of the voting age population.”  

The decree also states that, “Each member of the Board of Education shall be elected by a majority of the votes cast by qualified electors residing within the boundaries of each respective single-member education district.”

Another facet of the decree notes that candidates for election to the school board must have resided in the district at least 12 months prior to the election date.

A further condition in the consent decree states that newly appointed District 5 board member Leonard Presberg will be up for election in November.

Three other members’ terms are up this year: Janet Smola, Terri Smith and Marion Key. Candidates for those posts must run in the Democratic or Republican primaries this summer. But only voters residing in the same districts as the candidates may vote for them.

The decree also requires that the Fayette County Board of Education, as defendants, must pay the defendant’s attorney costs and expenses amounting to $5,000. Both parties in the case agreed to avoid further litigation and settle out of court.

The consent decree order will next be forwarded to the federal Department of Justice for consideration.

The 3-2 vote at the Jan. 9 school board meeting came with board members Leonard Presberg, Terri Smith and Janet Smola in favor of the motion and board members Marion Key and Bob Todd opposed.

If approved by the Dept. of Justice, board members Smith, Key, Smola and Presberg will be up for re-election later this year. The District 5 seat will essentially be a special election that will have the winner seated until the November 2014 election.

Presberg was selected by the school board by unanimous vote in late 2011 to fill the unexpired term of the late Sam Tolbert.

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