By Kathi Bliss
An undetected change in mapping is causing big headaches this week for the Lockhart Independent School District.
Last week, what some are calling an error was brought to the attention of district officials. That error risks a major impact on the upcoming election, in that it may render Fermin Islas, a candidate for the school board in Single-Member District Three ineligible to run for office. The line which separates District Three from District Four has historically run behind Islas’s Meadow Lane home, placing him in District Three.
That line, however, has recently been altered and now, according to at least one map, Islas and several of his neighbors are in District Four.
The change was not discussed during the redistricting process triggered by the 2010 Census, and members of the Redistricting Committee appointed by the LISD Board of Trustees to review the maps last year never intended for a change to be made in that area.
Islas said he confirmed with the District when he filed for a place on the ballot last month that his residence was proper in District 3; his voting rolls and voter registration card reflect residence in District 3.
The discrepancy was brought to light last week when Islas’s opponent, Jessica Neyman reviewed the map planning for a walking tour through the neighborhood. She brought the oddity to the attention of LISD officials, she said, because she was concerned about not only how it might impact the election, but about the credibility of past elections and the number of voters that could be affected. She said recently she was told at the time that LISD was aware of the discrepancy and was “looking into it.”
After LISD administration reviewed the situation, Islas said, they received an opinion from their legal counsel suggesting that the line was correct and Islas does, in fact, live in District 4.
Neyman said she received a call on Tuesday notifying her that she would be alone on the ballot.
Islas said on Tuesday evening that he was still concerned about the matter and intends to meet with LISD officials, demographers and attorneys, along with his own experts later this week to determine when and why the boundary line was changed, and by whom. He said no one seems to want to take responsibility for the change, or for his having been told originally that he was eligible to run in the District 3 election when, in fact, it appears he was not.
Questions raised about the changing district line are more far-reaching than the upcoming election. If, in fact, the residents on the south side of Meadow Lane and the east side of Sunrise Terrace live in District 4, as the current map reflects, than those residents have voted incorrectly in past elections. If the line was moved in error by the demographer, additional questions could be raised about the effectiveness of the redistricting process last year.
School districts are held to strict standards regarding community demographics, racial make-ups and household incomes when determining lines for single-member voting districts. The change in the district lines impacts more than 20 homes, and runs a risk of skewing those numbers.
The discrepancy in this district boundary also brings to light a murkier problem that could be facing LISD voters. Islas is the second candidate in this election cycle whose voter registration information reflects a different district than LISD maps. That candidate’s situation, according to information provided to Islas by LISD officials, was noted as a “bookkeeping error” and corrected.
Islas wonders why the same courtesy has not been extended to him, and to his neighbors.
LISD Superintendent Dr. Jose Parra released a brief written statement on the situation on Wednesday afternoon. In it, he said, “… the District is required to hold its elections based on the map that has been adopted by the Board of Trustees and approved by the Department of Justice.”
Parra confirmed Islas had filed for election in good faith, but that because the map submitted to the Department of Justice showed him in District 4, that he would be ineligible to run.
The memo did not offer an explanation as to why the line had been moved, or by whom.
**Editor’s note… Past maps published by the Lockhart Post-Register in 2003 and 2005 can be found here.**
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