Presberg: District voting defense costing BoE
Chairman says county ‘waging political battle’ at teachers’ expense
The chairman of the Fayette County Board of Education has taken umbrage with the Fayette County Board of Commissioners for defending the current at-large voting system in federal court.
BoE Chairman Leonard Presberg chided the county for “forcing us to use our precious resources — money that should be going into the pockets of teachers rather than the pockets of lawyers — to wage a political battle over the technical interpretation of the Voting Rights Act.”
The lawsuit was filed in August by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, seeking to force district voting for all five seats on the school board and the county commission. The BoE in January voted 3-2 to pursue a settlement in the case that was initially approved by the court. That settlement was later overturned after the county objected since it had not approved the initial settlement, which included a new BoE district map that allowed district voting instead of at-large voting for all five BoE posts.
District voting would allow voters to select only one candidate for each board: the seat which corresponds to the current geographic district the voter lives in.
In contrast, the current system of at-large voting allows voters to cast ballots for all five slots on both the board of education and the county commission.
The NAACP contends that at-large voting prevents black residents from being able to select the candidate of their choice. Because the black population of Fayette County has risen beyond the 20 percent mark, the NAACP wants one of the districts drawn to significantly increase the chances that a black-supported candidate could win election.
By objecting to the previously-approved settlement between the BoE and NAACP, the county commission is effectively causing the BoE to spend more money on the lawsuit, Presberg said. And these expenditures are coming at a time in which the school system is looking at the possible closing of five schools to save money, facing a multi-million dollar shortfall in the 2013-2014 school year.
Presberg, a Democrat, said he sees it as his job to continue the progress made since the Voting Rights Act was passed.
“I am hopeful that our children will someday live in a world where no one feels disenfranchised, where disputes such as this are read about in history books not on the front pages, and where racial differences no longer divide us,” Presberg said in a statement emailed to The Citizen.
Presberg declined to criticize the NAACP, which filed the suit in August that could well be on the ropes due to the settlement map not meeting a case-law mandate of having one district with a voting-age black population of at least 50 percent plus one voter.
The largest such district on the map approved by the NAACP and BoE, which was later struck down by the judge, contained a voting-age black population of 46.2 percent. Given that U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten gave the first round to the county on the lack of a 50-percent precinct, it may not bode well for the NAACP’s chances to prevail unless another map can be drawn to comply with all statutory guidelines and create such a district.
In court last week, attorneys for the county contended that the new map created for the BoE seats was racially gerrymandered in the opinion of their expert witness.
The NAACP indicated that its expert witness who drew the maps did so without considering race as a factor.