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Hillsborough School Board will redraw its voting districts

A workshop and a series of town hall meetings are planned to present more information.
Members of the Hillsborough County School Board, meeting on Sept. 9, 2021.
Members of the Hillsborough County School Board, meeting on Sept. 9, 2021. [ Hillsborough County Public Schools ]
Published Nov. 2, 2021|Updated Nov. 2, 2021

The Hillsborough School Board agreed Tuesday to revise voting districts over the next six weeks, over the objections of two members who said the process was too rushed.

The debate highlighted political divisions on a board that, technically, is nonpartisan. Melissa Snively and Stacy Hahn, both registered Republicans, cast the two votes to postpone the redistricting until 2023.

The decision does not affect where students go to school; it strictly concerns who will vote for which board members in the elections.

Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively.
Hillsborough County School Board member Melissa Snively. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Snively, whose term ends in 2022, represents an east Hillsborough district that grew by 24 percent in the last decade according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is heavily Republican and conservative, and likely to stay that way even with adjusted boundaries.

Hillsborough County School Board member Stacy Hahn.
Hillsborough County School Board member Stacy Hahn. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Hahn, also up for reelection, represents South Tampa and an area of southern Hillsborough that includes Ruskin and Apollo Beach. That district grew by 32 percent and, depending on how the map is redrawn, she might become vulnerable to a Democratic challenger. If that were to happen, Snively, who generally espouses views in line with the Republican Party, would find herself increasingly isolated on a mostly Democratic board.

No one has filed to run yet for either of those seats.

In their remarks at Tuesday’s meeting, Hahn and Snively did not talk politics, but instead questioned the need for redistricting and the way it is being handled.

The issue received little public discussion until Oct. 19, when board attorney Jim Porter said it was “best practice” to begin the process because of census figures that arrived on Sept. 28. By law, school board redistricting can happen only in an odd-numbered year. The process is triggered by a population disparity of 10 percent or greater across district boundaries.

Snively tried Tuesday to pin Porter down on whether the board would be breaking the law if it waited until 2023. Porter said the answer was not that simple, but there was a chance they would be sued if they waited.

“There’s no guarantee that we won’t get sued,” said Hahn. “There’s no guarantee that we will.”

Members on both sides came prepared with examples of other Florida school boards that are redistricting, although they offered conflicting information about how long those districts have been working on their plans.

Hahn disapproved of superintendent Addison Davis’ planned town hall meetings, as they will leave the redistricting issue for the last 30 minutes and Davis said he will not even be in the room at that point.

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Snively said district leaders are worsening a problem they already have with public trust. That angered member Nadia Combs, who said, “when we keep throwing out the term trust, trust and distrust, that creates distrust.”

Snively noted that on the issue of mandatory masks, “we weren’t as concerned, apparently about necessarily following the law. I find it very ironic and hypocritical by this board.”

Proposed maps will be posted to the district website next week, and the board is trying to schedule a workshop so its members and the public can learn more about the process. A final vote is planned Dec. 16.

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