Redrawing Fiefdoms in Ye Olde HISD

The Hispanic population continues to boom, the Anglo drip-drip-drip away to suburbia continues, there's a small decline among African Americans in Houston ISD and the district's biggest gain percentagewise is in Asian students.

That's what numbers guru Richard Murray of the University of Houston told Houston ISD board members at their agenda meeting this morning as they began the first stage of their redistricting process. Gene Locke of Andrews Kurth told trustees they should have a plan to submit to the Justice Department by this July.

Redistricting is called for whenever there's more than a 10 percent change in the population of a district, Locke said. While several of HISD's districts remain about the same, Murray said there's been a large increase in District 9 (Larry Marshall's area) and a decline in population in the north and east parts of the city since the 2000 census.

HISD is going to have to balance the demands of the Voting Rights Act, which call for it to be cognizant of race, and the Shaw v. Reno case of the 1990s, which, drawing on the 14th Amendment, prohibits anyone from being included or excluded from a voting area based on race.

"You're caught in a dilemma," Locke said. "The Voting Rights Act says you have to recognize minority groups [in Houston that's been identified as Vietnamese, Hispanics and African Americans, he said], but the 14th amendment says you can't draw lines on race."

According to Murray, census figures show Anglos declined by 30,000 overall, but increased by 20,000 in the inner city. African Americans dropped by 7,000 overall, he said. Asians increased by 41 percent, from 50,000 to 70,000 and are concentrated mostly in the Medical Center and Midtown areas.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of Hispanic residents in Marshall's district, Murray said. But the Hispanic population is declining in the east end and the Heights, he added.

Trustee Harvin Moore urged public meetings on the redistricting discussions, but also asked for one-on-ones between the team that's putting together the redistricting plan and each board member.

In other action, the district is also considering moving to a four-day week for summer school to save on energy costs. The school lunch program would still operate five days a week, but classes would be held Monday through Thursday and each summer school day would be extended by an hour. Most other area districts already operate this way in summer. Central offices would also be closed on Fridays if this is adopted.

This is also supposed to make it more desirable to teachers thinking about whether to sign up for summer duty.

And the district got the latest numbers in employee reduction.

Even though as of a week ago, close to 2,000 Houston ISD employees have been told they done have jobs or voluntarily exited the district, Superintendent Terry Grier said today that they still don't know exactly how many fewer teachers HISD will have next year.

In addition, another 967 teachers are leaving on a voluntary basis, bringing the total number of employees leaving the district to 1,912. Some of those teachers, though, Grier said, could be hired in other positions.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing