Austin School Board Approves New Voting Map
The Austin ISD school board gave a redrawn school district voting map the green light tonight in an 8-1 vote, clearing the way for the proposal to be sent to the US Justice Department for approval. Texas is among the jurisdictions that require federal approval to redraw voting boundaries under provisions of the Voting Rights Act intended to prevent minority groups from having their electoral influence reduced.
Several members of the Mueller neighborhood, a mixed-use development just east of I-35, protested the changes during a public comment portion of the board meeting. At least three speakers said they wanted to be included in East Austin's District 1, an area that includes the highest proportion of African-American voters in the entire school district and the second largest percentage of Hispanic voters.
"What we want is to be a seamless part of the fabric of East Austin," Mueller resident Kevin Foster said during the public comment of the school board meeting. "However, we feel we are being denied that opportunity by the district."
But allowing Mueller to join District 1 would dilute the African-American vote there by about 1 percentage point, according to David Mendez, an attorney with the Heath, Bickerstaff law firm.
"It's important to maintain as high a minority percentage in that district as possible," he said to board members.
More than 25 percent of voters in District 1 are African-American, according to this AISD analysis of 2010 census figures.
District 1 Trustee Cheryl Bradley said Mueller residents are still welcome to participate in East Austin public schools, even if their elected representative doesn't reflect their schools.
"Regardless of whether you are District 1, you are part of the community and that does not change," she said. Bradley said that as an African-American herself, she was interested in preserving the influence of that minority voting bloc.
The new map also severs part of District 7 in southwest Austin, one of the fastest growing areas of Travis County, and adds it to District 5 in Central Austin.
District 7 Trustee Robert Schneider was the only school board member to oppose the new map.
"Of the current nine members of this board, we only have three that live south of the river," he said. "Half of our students live south of the river and nearly half of our total population that lives south of the river."