Octorara Area School Board Reviews Alignment of Voting Regions

Octorara Area School District

ATGLEN, PA — The Octorara Area School Board of Directors met on Monday, September 12, 2022, to discuss a possible change in the alignment of voting regions. The district is currently divided into three regions, each of which must contain municipalities and be roughly equal in size. Board President Brian Fox began the meeting with a review of the District’s current voter alignment and how it has been criticized in the past for “packing” less populated communities into election regions.

According to state law, a review of the regions is required after the results of each U.S. Census become available. This is to ensure that each region is still balanced. Fox prepared several options with the goal of putting both voting districts of Parkesburg in the same region. However, after looking through several options, Fox claimed to not find any that meet the requirements while putting both parts of Parkesburg in the same region. Fox stated that to maintain both “contiguous and balanced,” they would have to leave things as they are. However, past reporting shows that other Chester County school districts seem to give priority to maintaining communities, not simply creating regions made up of contiguous (adjacent) municipalities, especially when the community is a population center. In fact, the Public School Code states, “[The] population of each region shall be as nearly equal as possible and shall be compatible with the boundaries of election districts,” and “the reapportionment commission shall make every effort to maintain neighborhood boundary lines of communities of like interest whenever practicable.”

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In 1997, a legal petition was filed against the Octorara Area School District accusing their system of electing School Board members of violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Octorara Area School Board at the time had a nine-region system where each municipality received an equal number of School Board members, irrespective of the population. With the exception of Robert Hume, the former longtime School Board member from the Borough of Parkesburg, the board decided to defend the apparent imbalance and voter disenfranchisement. The case went to court and after a long battle, the Court found in favor of the petitioner and ordered Octorara to redraw its regions to provide each voter with more equal representation on the school board. This event in Octorara’s history highlights how important it is for elections to be fair and representative of everyone in order to maintain a functioning democracy.

Despite the court informing the Octroara Area School Board of its responsibility to perform a review of Regions with every census, since the legal settlement, the School Board has missed two deadlines for reapportionment based on both the 2000 and 2010 Censuses. Furthermore, for almost two decades, the Octorara Area School Board of Directors has neither convened a reapportionment commission nor made any attempt to realign election regions based on more current and accurate population figures. This is despite the revision and approval of an associated School Board Policy in 2011. Consequently, the current election regions potentially do not accurately reflect the changing demographics of the school district’s population. As a result, some municipalities may be significantly underrepresented while others are overrepresented. This inequity undermines the legitimacy of the school board and creates difficulties for residents who wish to run for school board director.

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Gerrymandering is often seen as a partisan issue, but it is actually a way for any group to gain an unfair advantage in elections. In the Octorara Area School District, some residents accuse the District of what they believe to be intentional gerrymandering by school board officials. If you would like to learn more about this issue or get involved, information is available on the district website and the issue will remain open for public comment until November when the board will vote on the matter.

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