Two days before Fort Worth ISD trustee Daphne Brookins died, an idea was floated to boost engagement in a historically underrepresented neighborhood.
Some trustees wanted to ensure Precinct 1005, located east of Interstate 35W in the Historic Southside, stayed inside Brookins’ District 4. Precinct 1005 is in a majority Black area. Nearly 53% of Historic Southside residents are Black.
The redistricting committee, though, did not take that suggestion. Instead, the committee moved the precinct from District 4 to board President Tobi Jackson’s District 2.
“The timing and all the little nuances surrounding it is just unfortunate,” trustee CJ Evans said at a Jan. 18 school board meeting.
Trustees on Jan. 18 voted down the committee’s recommended map. Instead, the map the school board members approved moved part of Precinct 1005 back into District 4. After two deadlocked 4-4 votes, the school board voted 5-3 to approve new political boundaries that will be in effect for the next decade.
The new boundaries are based on a map called Plan E2. The map does not affect where students attend school.
Trustee Anne Darr was among the three school board members to vote against the modified map. She told the Fort Worth Report she was against splitting Precinct 1005 because it would allow a candidate, whom she did not name, to run for the vacant District 4 seat. Darr described the move as inappropriate and inequitable.
“It is unfortunate that politics influenced the final map,” Darr said.
The newly drawn District 4 covers southeast Fort Worth ISD. Trustees had to approve a new map before they called for a May 7 special election to fill the District 4 seat, which has been vacant since November. The candidate filing period started Jan. 19 and ends March 7.
Rolando Rios, a lawyer guiding the redistricting process, told trustees map drawers try to minimize any voting precinct splits.
Sergio De Leon, Tarrant County Precinct 5 justice of the peace and redistricting committee member, echoed Rios in an interview with the Report. Precinct splitting has been done in the past, but De Leon and the redistricting committee worked to avoid it this cycle.
“We always wanted to make sure that full precincts were intact, communities of interest were respected and that we would produce something that didn’t fracture any one particular neighborhood,” De Leon said.
De Leon acknowledged that trustees ultimately have the final say on the next school board member map. They could consider what the committee recommended, reject or adopt it, or even modify it, the justice of the peace said.
“If they went the route to modify to achieve whatever aim, that is their prerogative,” De Leon said.
3 votes, 1 map
The third time was the charm for the Fort Worth ISD school board to approve new political boundaries. Here are the three votes trustees had at their Jan. 18 meeting:
- Trustees tweaked a map called Plan E2, which the redistricting committee recommended, to move a single precinct from District 2 to District 4. The vote was 4-4. Trustees Jacinto Ramos, Quinton Phillips, CJ Evans and Roxanne Martinez voted in favor. Trustees Tobi Jackson, Anne Darr, Michael Ryan and Anael Luebanos voted against.
- After the first vote failed, school board members considered the same map without making any changes to the committee’s recommendation. The vote was 4-4. Jackson, Darr, Ryan and Luebanos voted for the map. Ramos, Phillips, Evans and Martinez voted against.
- Trustees reconsidered the first proposal. The vote was 5-3. Ramos, Phillips, Evans, Ryan and Martinez voted for it. Jackson, Darr and Luebanos voted against.
Trustee Michael Ryan was the swing vote. He initially voted against the modified Plan E2 before voting for it when it was proposed again. Ryan did not respond to a Fort Worth Report request to comment.
Trustee Jacinto Ramos pushed to split Precinct 1005 into District 4. He said the division addresses nearly everything the redistricting committee recommended and keeps future elections in mind.
“While it may be perceived in a whole bunch of other different ways, I will cite that history has often proven that the politics in the background and behind the scenes can give the optics that someone may have been intentionally cut,” Ramos said. “I can say that’s not the case.”
Quinton Phillips, the board’s vice president, described his votes for the new map as an attempt to make Fort Worth ISD’s political power more inclusive. He also spoke out against gerrymandering.
“My vote and second of that motion a moment ago was attempting to make sure that justice was intact and that we were doing the right thing by people,” Phillips said. “Time and time again, what ends up happening is — particularly to people of color, particularly to Black people — they’re left out.”
All nine districts saw changes. However, map drawers attempted to keep the districts mostly in line with the 2011 configuration that the U.S. Justice Department approved when new maps had to go through federal preclearance. This is the first redistricting cycle in which Texas can redraw political maps without federal oversight.
Ramos represents District 1 in the North Side. He said his district was not drawn with the most favorable lines. However, he agreed the changes were needed to ensure the Diamond Hill area would stay as one in trustee Roxanne Martinez’s District 9.
Ramos blamed the new lines on his appointed redistricting committee member, Norma Garcia-Lopez, resigning from her post. Garcia-Lopez resigned from her appointed positions on Fort Worth ISD boards and committees after a doxxing controversy and death threats. Her resignation left District 1 without a voice in redistricting, Ramos said.
Another proposed map the redistricting committee considered also split up several Southside neighborhoods, De Leon told the school board. The proposal was Plan E3, and residents opposed it. They told the committee Plan E3 tore apart Southside neighborhoods, including Fairmont, Ryan Place and Hemphill Heights. They wanted the school board, which has the ultimate say in which map to adopt, to pick Plan E2. The committee unanimously recommended Plan E2 to the school board.
Fort Worth ISD resident Twyla Masteron told trustees whatever map they picked should not harm anyone.
“That’s a 10-year impact on communities,” she said. “Make sure they’re equitable and fair for all constituents.”
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.