FARMINGTON – Farmington and Prairie Grove school districts will need to change the way they elect their school board members next year, as the 2020 census shows each now has at least 10% of the minority population.
Jeff Hawkins, director of the Northwest Arkansas Planning Commission, said a 1993 state law states that a school district cannot elect all of its board members when general elections if the total population is more than 10% minority.
The Lincoln School Board already elects the five zonal members and went from individual members to zonal elections about 10 years ago, based on the 2010 census.
Hawkins said the minority doesn’t just refer to race. The state defines a minority as any Hispanic or Latino, Black or African, Native American, Asian or Pacific Islander.
Data from the 2020 census shows that the Farmington School District has a total population of 13,068 for all residents within its school boundaries. Of this number, 10,503 are “white only”. Of the total population, Farmington School District has a minority population of 19.6%.
The Prairie Grove School District has a total population of 12,665 within its district boundaries, with 10,426 people listed as “white single.” The district has a minority population of 17.6%, according to the 2020 census report.
Currently, members of both school boards are elected to general positions and all registered voters have the opportunity to vote for all positions.
But now those posts will have to move to zonal elections, Hawkins said. The candidate for a position will have to live within the boundaries of the zone, and only registered voters living in the zone will be able to vote for one of the candidates running for the zoned position.
The boards have several options, Hawkins said. They can choose to have five zoned positions, seven zoned positions, or five zoned positions plus two general positions. Someone running for office in general can live anywhere within the school boundaries, and all registered voters in the district can vote for candidates in general.
The Prairie Grove School Board has already made its choice at its August 17th meeting. The board, which currently has seven general positions, voted in favor of five zoned positions and two general positions.
The names of all council members were placed in a hat to determine which of the positions would be considered general. Deputy Superintendent David Kellogg drew the names of Casie Ruland and William Dick, which means these positions will be members at large.
Hawkins said his office took census information and district boundaries and established the zones. His office also has the addresses of all current members and will take them into account.
Hawkins said the areas should be roughly equal by total population, not by population of voting age. The commission will follow the redistribution principles, taking into account the place of residence of the current members of the board of directors.
“It’s not a final rule, but in practice these people have been elected and you don’t want to reassign someone, if you can help them,” Hawkins said, adding, “If there is a way to draw those and still conform to the majority of redistribution principles, so that’s what we’ll do. “
Hawkins said that by drawing the boundaries of the different areas of the school board, there should not be a deviation of more than 10% of the population from the largest area to the smallest.
“We will try to keep them compact so that they don’t end up with weird shapes,” he said.
Last week, Hawkins said his office was already done with a preliminary plan for the Farmington School Board, which currently has five positions overall. The commission proposes five zoned positions. Three of the zones have a current board member. One zone has two council members residing there and the fifth zone has no council members residing there.
Two of the board members, Travis Warren and Jeff Oxford, live in the same census block and there was no way to develop a plan without having them both in the same area, Hawkins said.
That plan will go to the school board for review, and the board may decide to accept it or request another proposal, Hawkins said.
The next step, Hawkins said last week, will be to work on a proposal for the Prairie Grove school board areas.
School boards will need to pass a resolution and approve its zones by the Dec. 1 deadline, according to Jennifer Price of the Washington County Election Commission.
Once the Election Commission approves the zones, the information is then forwarded to the Washington County Clerk’s Office, who will be responsible for deciding electoral districts and sending updated information to all registered voters for them. school zones and justice of the peace districts.
“Really, the county clerk’s office does the heavy lifting,” Price said.
Lucas Harder, director of political services for the Arkansas School Board Association, sent a memorandum to school officials earlier this year to help answer some questions about the law and the process.
In a telephone interview last week, Harder said that once the zones are finalized, all zoned positions for Farmington and Prairie Grove school boards will be up for election. The exception will be those who continue as extraordinary members of the board of directors.
Elections for the Prairie Grove and Farmington school boards will be held on the May 24 primary election ballot.
Once that election is certified by the electoral commission, board members will draw lots to fix their terms so that no more than two positions stand for election the following year, Harder said.
Harder said he was unsure whether all Lincoln school board members should run again. That would be a question for his legal counsel on the basis of any zoning boundary changes due to the census and any permitted exemptions, Harder said.
Along with Farmington and Prairie Grove, West Fork and Elkins will also have to change their school boards from general positions to electing zonal board members. All other Washington County school districts already have zonal elections.