4 BoE posts to be decided by district vote

Federal judge signs off on NAACP lawsuit settlement; first elections to be in July

UPDATED for print, Feb. 28, 2011 — Get ready for district voting in the upcoming Fayette County Board of Education races.

The signature by a federal judge late last week settled the lawsuit once and for all and paved the way for a new type of election process.

Seats held by school board members Terri Smith, Marion Key and Janet Smola are all up for a vote this year. And so is the one held by District 5 board member Leonard Presberg, though the particulars of that election have not been established.

The consent decree proposal to settle the 2011 federal lawsuit filed by the Fayette County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People against the Fayette County Board of Education to institute district voting was signed Feb. 24 by U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr.

The judge’s order followed a 3-2 vote by the school board on Jan. 9 to settle the suit and agree to district voting, which will replace at-large voting for all posts.

The settlement means that voters living in the districts in which Smith, Key and Smola reside will be the only ones able to cast a vote for qualifiers in the respective districts. That’s assuming the the U.S. Dept. of Justice signs off the new district map approved by the school board in December.

As for the District 5 seat held by Presberg, the settlement requires that he also face election this year even though his appointment in late 2011 was supposed to include serving until the end of 2014. District 5 includes much of north Fayette County. The special election for that district was one of the conditions specified by the NAACP.

Presberg was selected by the school board by unanimous vote in late 2011 to fill the unexpired term of the late Sam Tolbert.

Pertaining to the District 5 special election, Fayette County Elections supervisor Tom Sawyer on Monday said the details relating to the election have not been worked out.

“I just don’t know at this point,” Sawyer said of the issues such as the qualifying period, whether a primary election will be held, the date of the special election and a potential run-of election.

Left hanging is the same NAACP lawsuit against the Fayette County Commission. The county recently filed a map consisting of five districts, all with at-large voting.

As ordered by Judge Batten, the consent decree states, “The parties have agreed upon a single-member redistricting plan that provides an equal opportunity for Blacks to elected candidates of their choice to the Board of Education in District 5, in which Blacks comprise 48.68 percent of the total population and 46.2 percent of the voting age population.”

The decree also states that, “Each member of the Board of Education shall be elected by a majority of the votes cast by qualified electors residing within the boundaries of each respective single-member education district.”

Another facet of the decree notes that candidates for election to the school board must have resided in the district at least 12 months prior to the election date.

A further condition in the consent decree states that newly appointed District 5 board member Leonard Presberg will be up for election in November.

The decree also requires that the Fayette County Board of Education, as defendants, must pay the defendant’s attorney costs and expenses amounting to $5,000. Both parties in the case agreed to avoid further litigation and settle out of court.

The consent decree order will be forwarded to the federal Department of Justice for consideration.

The 3-2 vote at the Jan. 9 school board meeting to settle the lawsuit came with Presberg, Smith and Smola in favor of the motion and board members Marion Key and Bob Todd opposed.

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