A progressive political group is pushing a Central Bucks redistricting plan for the school district that would turn the nine single-member districts into three three-member districts. The effort is backed by Democrats. Critics say the proposal would make it harder for Republicans to win any seats on the board.
The reapportionment process, done every 10 years to conform to U.S. Census results, ensures the nine districts represent roughly the same number of people. While the school board voted to approve a new map drawn by the solicitor and superintendent in November, CBSD Fair Votes challenged that map in court.
Fair Votes is part of a national organization backed by progressive donors that advocates election policies backed by many on the left. The CBSD Fair Votes map would change the school district from nine regions to only three, with each fielding three candidates.
Tracy Suits, a Chalfont mother and former school board president, said when she saw the new map the board adopted, she looked into it and realized some people in New Britain Borough and Doylestown Township would be “disenfranchised” by having their vote for school board director delayed from this year to 2025.
She first devised her own nine-district map and soon “realized how hard it was to make an alternative.”
Eventually, Fair Votes settled on the three-district map, garnered nearly 3,700 signatures, engaged lawyers Brandon Lloyd and Theresa Golding of Curtin and Heefner, and filed a petition with the court.
Suits said the law firm, where state Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) was once a partner, is working pro bono on the effort. Santarsiero, chair of the Bucks County Democrats, resigned from Curtin and Heefner in 2019 over an alleged conflict of interest and is now of counsel at Rudolph Clarke.
Curtin and Heefner has close ties to Democratic politics, and one of its partners, Joe Khan, is a Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania attorney general. Suits’ social media feed features posts critical of Moms for Liberty, a parents’ rights group active in the district.
Chalfont parent Jamie Cohen Walker opposes the effort to change the district from nine regions to three.
“Central Bucks is a huge district,” said Walker. “There’s no way the candidates could even door knock those areas. Now every region has its representative. Doylestown Borough is way different than Plumsteadville, where it’s very rural. We are very diverse.
“You would never be able to know your school board member,” Walker said. In filing its plan, the school board followed state law in a process that occurs every 10 years. Walker believes Suits and Fair Votes proposed “gerrymandering” the district to “make it so Republicans can never win seats again.” And it might lead to all or most of the seats being filled by Doylestown residents, she said.
The Pennsbury School District changed to three districts in 2011, and “not one Republican has been elected since. People aren’t represented fairly when such a big district is regionalized,” Walker said.
The entire Bucks County bench recused itself from the reapportionment case because one judge’s wife works for the school district, said Suits. So, the case is now before Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Cheryl Austin. A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 28.
The public is invited to a meeting of the Committee to Evaluate the Regional Maps for the Election of School Board Members at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 24. However, that meeting may be canceled if CBSD Fair Votes, the group that filed an alternative plan, does not present its plan as requested.
Austin told the district to garner public input, so the board formed a committee with board members and residents. Residents have until Aug. 4 to submit plans.
Board Vice President Leigh Vlasblom, on the Maps committee, said Fair Votes was offered a chance at the committee’s July 19 meeting to present its proposed map at the July 24 meeting but declined.
“This committee will review all submitted plans,” said Vlasblom. “And then the committee will invite certain plans that are submitted to be presented publicly. Our solicitor has to review the plans because we don’t want to submit a plan that won’t hold up in court.” They want the public to see the plans and be able to comment on them.
Despite having their plan for four months and presenting it to the court, Suits said they needed more time to be ready to present it to the public on July 24.
“That was really quite short notice, in our opinion,” Suits said. “We also felt like everyone else in the community has a deadline of Aug. 4 to submit their proposal, so it didn’t feel equitable that we would be given such a short amount of time to prepare and present because our submissions to the court have really been grounded in the legal argument and that’s not what we want to present to the public. It’s a little bit different approach.”
Committee Chair Sharon Collopy said groups will have 20 minutes to present their plans, followed by 30 minutes of public comment. The presentations will be uploaded to the district’s website.