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School Board won't redistrict until 2003

School Board members will wait until 2003 to consider redrawing their political boundaries, even as county commissioners move ahead with plans to realign theirs.

Both governmental bodies have been looking at their election maps since the 2000 Census to see if population shifts have thrown the districts out of whack. By law, the districts must be as nearly equal in population as possible.

Currently, the School Board and County Commission carve up Hernando in different ways. Four School Board districts reach into Spring Hill while only three County Commission seats do.

Already, it appears at least one of the five County Commission districts has grown too large. Commissioners are scheduled to consider a new map at a Nov. 27 meeting.

But the five School Board districts appear to be more equally proportioned. And Tuesday, the School Board decided not to pursue a redistricting effort this year. Since new lines can't be drawn in even-numbered (election) years, that means the issue is dead until 2003.

Sandra Nicholson, who expects to seek a third term on the School Board next year, led her colleagues in deciding to put off redistricting until 2003. She said there was no political gain for her in the decision. It's just that the population hasn't shifted enough since the last redistricting effort, in 1993, to warrant a new map, she said.

More than that, Nicholson said, there isn't enough time at this point in the year to do a proper job of redrawing the lines. She noted that it was put off until November simply because the matter got lost in the transition from John Sanders to Wendy Tellone as school superintendent.

During the School Board's discussion on redistricting, Nicholson said someone in county government told her the census figures that would be the basis for a new map weren't yet solid. She declined to name her source. County officials declined to comment.

In a perfect alignment, each of the five School Board districts would represent 20 percent of the county population. Census figures given to the board members weren't quite that perfect.

District 4, which covers south-central Hernando County and includes the eastern half of Spring Hill, has 21.6 percent of the population _ the largest share of any of the five districts. It is represented by School Board chairman Jim Malcolm.

Nicholson's District 5, which covers most of the rural northern and eastern ends of the county, has 18.7 percent of the population, making it the smallest.

But that 2.9 percentage point disparity between them is well within what's generally considered allowable _ disparities of plus or minus 5 percentage points. "That's not too bad," Malcolm said.

Seeing such a small margin, School Board members quickly followed Nicholson's lead in opting against a new map now.

Their vote probably dooms county elections supervisor Annie Williams' idea to see both the School Board and the County Commission use the same voting map. Williams said such a merger would simplify things for voters and save her office the trouble of keeping up with two maps.

Redrawing the political boundaries at the county level isn't filled with nearly as much intrigue as when changes are made to state legislative or federal congressional districts.

At those levels, officeholders are elected solely by the voters who live in their narrowly drawn district. If the state Legislature, which also redraws the lines for Congress, alters the landscape dramatically, incumbents can find themselves cut off from their voter base.

That's harder with School Board and County Commission seats, where voters in every corner of the county may cast votes for all the five districts. The district lines determine only where candidates must live, not who votes for them.

Even in 1993, though, there was controversy about the School Board's redistricting. Jay Rowden, the husband of former School Board member Diane Rowden, contended that the new lines were drawn to protect incumbent Bob Flato from challengers in the 1994 election.

Rowden contended the new boundaries conveniently altered the District 1 zone in a way that effectively kept people who would have run for that seat from meeting the residency requirement.

_ Times staff writer Robert King covers education in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6127. Send e-mail to rkingsptimes.com.

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