The next decade of political power in Fort Worth ISD is being cemented as officials work to redraw nine single-member trustee districts. That point wasn’t lost on resident Wanda McKinney.
During a recent redistricting forum, she asked how District 2 in east Fort Worth would be redrawn. McKinney wants to see the eventual school board map to District 2 changed so a Black resident could have a better chance at winning the seat. Board President Tobi Jackson currently has that seat, and she is up for re-election in 2023.
McKinney’s concern for a minority-majority district, like District 2, is one map drawers are weighing as they shift Fort Worth ISD’s political boundaries. The task has two prongs: New political boundaries have to account for the district’s population growth in western areas of Fort Worth ISD, while also maintaining existing minority-majority districts.
The assignment is easier said than done with the school district’s population distribution. Rolando Rios, a lawyer guiding Fort Worth ISD’s redistricting process, described the district as having an east-west divide. Population growth is occurring on the west side. However, minority-majority trustee districts are to the east.
Tarrant County Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace Sergio De Leon is one eight residents appointed to the school board’s redistricting committee.
“The goal here is to equalize the population,” De Leon said.
Right now, the number of people inside each trustee district is out of whack. District 5 has the highest estimated population at 63,140. The lowest populated trustee seat is District 8, with 49,649 people. That is a deviation of 23.4%.
Federal law requires the percentage difference between the most and least populated districts be no more than 10%. If that figure had been under that threshold, Rios noted Fort Worth ISD likely would not have needed to redraw the trustee maps.
Redistricting is based on population figures gathered in last year’s census.
The redistricting committee is working on a map called Plan E2. Every single district will see some change under this proposal. Committee members and lawyers guiding the redistricting process feel confident they are inching closer to the final school board map. Plan E2 is good, but still needs tweaks, Rios said.
Committee members Judy Needham and Alice Miller stressed a precinct swap between Districts 7 and 5 is the only way to ensure populations are balanced.
“Being on the far west side, there is nowhere that we can move the population except to District 5,” Miller said.
Demographics are not the only consideration in redistricting. Rios and his lawyers have met with school board members to see which changes they could agree upon.
Who’s on the 2021 redistricting committee?
School board members appointed eight residents to serve on their redistricting committee. The group will review and propose a map that the trustees will consider adopting. Here are the members:
- Aracely Chavez, executive director of information technology training and compliance for Fort Worth ISD
- Sergio De Leon, Tarrant County Precinct 5 justice of the peace
- Carlos Flores, Fort Worth council member
- Stacy Marshall, president of Southeast Fort Worth Inc.
- Alice Miller, parent of six Fort Worth ISD graduates
- Judy Needham, former Fort Worth ISD school board member
- Frank Moss Sr., former Fort Worth council member
- Sara Pereda, U.S. surgical chief financial officer at Alcon Vision
Plan E2 calls for some major changes to Districts 6 and 8 that some residents were concerned about. District 6, which is in south Fort Worth ISD, would become narrower and stretches closer to Vickery Boulevard. Neighboring District 8 picks up some precincts from District 6 and becomes more compact.
Committee member Aracely Chavez said she worked with both trustees, Anne Darr of District 6 and Anael Luebanos of District 8, and De Leon to arrive at these lines. They all agreed these changes would be the best fit for the populations, she said. The back and forth between committee members and trustees is all part of a dynamic process to create a new map, Rios said.
“What we have here with Districts 6 and 8 is the result of population shifts and the dynamics of the representatives of this area who weighed in and said this is what they want their districts to look like,” he said.
Additionally, Jesse Gaines, another lawyer working on Fort Worth ISD’s redistricting, said District 6 has not seen as much growth as other areas of the school district. District 6 is surrounded by Crowley ISD to the south, where more growth is occurring.
Gaines said another factor in the new map is maintaining the cores of trustee districts.
The U.S. Justice Department OK’d the current configuration in 2011 when federal preclearance was still required. This is the first redistricting cycle in which Texas can redraw political maps without federal oversight.
“These are fairly cosmetic changes that are directed at equalizing the population, plus maintaining the spirit of the districts as they were originally drawn (in 2011),” Gaines said.
Balancing changing demographics
Some residents raised concerns over Districts 5, 6 and 7 being too white. Those districts are in growing areas with factors, such as housing patterns and prices, that are out of the redistricting committee’s control, Rios said.
“The only thing we try to do is make sure racially and ethnically and, in terms of whole numbers, we make sure those districts comply with federal law,” he said.
The redistricting committee will make final changes to a map that it will send to the entire school board. Trustees will consider the proposed map before March, according to district officials.
McKinney, the resident concerned about District 2, was not alone in wanting to see trustee districts drawn to pave the way for a person of color to win. In its current form, District 2 is one of six substantial minority-majority districts. Districts 5, 6 and 7 have white-majority populations.
Gaines noted the district can still elect a trustee who is not from a racial or ethnic minority group and still have a responsive school board member.
Rios told McKinney District 2 is likely to elect a non-white trustee, but map drawers cannot guarantee the outcome of an election. Whatever new map trustees approve will be used in the May 2023 election.
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.