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School Board okays disputed redistricting

The School Board approved new district political boundaries Tuesday despite concerns from the NAACP about whether it used the proper population numbers to redraw the lines.

The vote came after a solemn opening to the meeting that honored the four Hillsborough County graduates who have died overseas since the war on terrorism began. Members of their families attended the ceremony.

The board approved a Veterans Day proclamation honoring Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith, who was killed at the Baghdad airport; Army Sgt. Wilbert Davis, who died while driving to Baghdad; Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Andrew Aviles, who died in action in Iraq; and Lance Cpl. Antonio Sledd, who was killed in Kuwait last year.

Board members went on to approve one of three proposals to alter five of the seven districts, the first redistricting since single-member seats were created in 1999 to increase minority representation. Two of the seats are elected countywide.

They are required by law to adjust districts to evenly distribute the population among seats.

Three speakers questioned the redistricting, particularly its effect on East Tampa's District 5, which has a more than 40 percent black population. The other four districts are all 10 percent black, or less.

Doris Ross Reddick, the board's only black member, represents the district. She has not announced re-election plans but two minority women, retired educator Doretha Edgecomb and substitute teacher Melissa Hernandez, have filed to run.

The major concern is whether the changes will weaken the black vote.

Al Davis, NAACP executive committee member and director of the Multidimensional Civic Participation Center, questioned why the board used Hillsborough City-County Planning Commission estimates instead of census data to alter the lines.

"This seems to be inconsistent with the law," he said.

Sam Horton, president of the Hillsborough branch of the NAACP, also asked why estimates were used.

District 5 resident Gerald White said he is deeply concerned by the percentage of African-Americans in each of the districts. "We can do better," he said.

Despite the concerns, board members unanimously approved the boundaries that shuffle several precincts in each of the five districts but essentially keep the percentages of black and Hispanic voters the same as they were in 1999.

The boundaries were configured by the Planning Commission and the supervisor of elections using 2002 housing estimates.

School attorney Tom Gonzalez defended the changes, saying the law does not limit the district to using only census numbers. Plus, he said, the U.S. Justice Department must still approve the boundary changes, and it will "make sure no minority groups are cut out."

Federal approval is needed because Hillsborough is among dozens of counties whose voting procedures are monitored under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Candidates for four School Board seats will compete in the redrawn boundaries next fall.