Richardson School Board votes unanimously to end Voting Rights Act lawsuit

RISD to move toward 5–2 electoral plan with five single-member districts and two at large representatives; board president calls the move a win for educational equity

The Richardson ISD School Board voted unanimously this week to end a Voting Rights Act lawsuit regarding the way trustees will be elected in the future.

The president of the board described the board as united and committed, and he called the action a win for equity in education. The decision to settle the suit means the parties will seek federal court approval to change this year’s school board election to November. Upon court approval, voting for three seats will occur in November, as opposed to May, after the board develops a transition plan that phases in the new single-member districts. Proposed maps are in draft form and are expected to be released within the next week.

Numerous local and state school districts are changing the electoral plans for school boards. The trend follows dramatic demographic changes across the state. Board President Justin Bono said the decision comes at the right time, and he is encouraged it will produce more diversity on the school board.

Former school board David Tyson filed the lawsuit last year. The settlement means an end to the litigation and to mounting legal fees. Currently, all seven Richardson ISD board members are elected at large, or by all the voters.

“This process was exhaustive, and our board put forth a collaborative and thoughtful effort to resolve the issues,” said Bono. “Since we worked with the plaintiff to achieve a resolution, we were able to craft a hybrid single-member district plan that keeps two members elected at large with five members elected from within smaller geographic areas. Our board members want more diversity at the decision table. We are all optimistic that can be achieved with a new electoral plan. Hopefully, this system will result in successful elections for minority candidates.”

The agreement with the plaintiff also includes the dismissal of a related lawsuit filed under the Texas Open Meetings Act. In the past, board members have stated that this litigation was without merit. The settlement calls for the board to attend Texas Open Meetings Act training, which is already a practice that occurs annually.

Bono noted that full implementation of the plan will be in place by 2021. He expressed optimism that the transition will be positive and seamless.

“Everyone’s first question will be, ‘What voting district am I in?’” said Bono. “Those maps are coming soon, and we are mindful of the community’s concerns regarding traditional neighborhood alliances and alignment. All of that and more has been taken into consideration, along with compliance with federal and state law, as we finalize this single-member district map. I am confident that this new system will continue to produce high functioning boards focused on the success of all students in RISD.”

Bono predicted the new districts will create opportunities for minority candidates. RISD Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone expressed strong support for the board’s action.

“I am very pleased with this outcome,” said Stone. “The decision continues our efforts to promote educational equity across RISD, and directly reflects the priorities established in the 2017 strategic planning process with our community.”

The proposed geographic boundaries for the single-member districts will be released soon. A public meeting is set for January 29 and the school board is expected to finalize the boundaries at its February 4 meeting. Each of the five districts will contain approximately 40,000 residents.

Contact: Chris Moore, Chief Communications Officer, Richardson ISD, chris.moore@risd.org, 469–593–0300.