16LINKEDIN 1COMMENTMORE

When Lee County voters passed a referendum in 2014 that changed how we elect our Lee County school board members, it opened the door to having a board, which is more representative and reflective of the communities it serves.

As president of the Lee County NAACP, I have seen firsthand how elected officials, teachers, parents, students and community groups have worked together to find a fairer way to elect our school board representatives.

We began collaborating on this effort in 2014, when the board voted to expand from five to seven members and move away from all at-large elections in favor of a hybrid system where five of the board members would be elected from districts.  The change was intended to diversify the school board, which has been all white since its inception more than 120 years ago yet oversees a rapidly growing public school system in which more than 55 percent of students are minorities.

Lee County voters overwhelmingly supported the switch in a referendum later that year, and it was undeniably a step in the right direction for our schoolchildren and our voters.

The next step is to draw the new election districts.  At Tuesday’s school board meeting, the NAACP will present an election district map that would improve representation on the board for students of color and their families. We have partnered with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a civil rights legal non-profit that has expertise in redistricting matters, to draft a redistricting proposal that makes sure local needs and interests were given the consideration they deserve.

While leaving most of the current district boundaries unchanged, the NAACP map proposes to adjust the boundaries of Districts 4 and 5 in the northeastern part of the county to unite communities that are split apart in the current map despite sharing common socioeconomic characteristics and educational interests.  Uniting those communities will strengthen their voices in school board elections and allow them to elect representatives whom they can hold accountable for addressing their children’s needs.  The NAACP map has won approval from the school board’s Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee as well as a number of local civic organizations.

By moving forward on the NAACP’s map, our school board has an opportunity to positively shape the future of the roughly 90,000 children in our public schools without having to approve new spending for programs or upgrade any facilities.  A stronger, more representative school board will lead to stronger schools, and stronger schools lead to stronger communities.  On Tuesday, a vote to complete the redistricting process is a vote of confidence in a more equitable future for our children.

James Muwakkil is president of the Lee County NAACP.

BREAKOUT

If you go

 

  • What: Lee County Public Schools board meeting
  • When: 6-8 p.m. Tuesday.
  • Where: School District of Lee County, 2855 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers
  • Note: Emily Seawell, Staff Attorney, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and Frederick Morgan II, Political Action Chair, Lee County NAACP, will be presenting the redistricting proposal to school board.

How to reach school board members

Mary Fischer, Chairman, District 1 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Jane E. Kuckel, Vice Chairman, District 6 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Melisa W. Giovannelli, District 2 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Chris Patricca, District 3 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Steven K. Teuber, District 4 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Pamela H. LaRiviere, District 5 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan, District 7 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.