Penns­bury awaits judge’s de­ci­sion on reap­por­tion­ment

The Advance of Bucks County - - YARDLEY-MORRISVILLE AREA - By Pe­tra Ch­es­ner Sch­lat­ter

PENNSBURv – A rul­ing on the con­tro­ver­sial reap­por­tion­ment case was sup­posed to be ren­dered this month, but there has been no word yet from Pres­i­dent Judge Su­san Devlin Scott of the Bucks County Court of Com­mon Pleas.

Cur­rently there are three vot­ing re­gions which do not pro­vide equal vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion due to pop­u­la­tion growth within the dis­trict.

Penns­bury School Board has pro­posed a plan that would keep the cur­rent three-re­gion plan and shift precincts within those re­gions to equal­ize pop­u­la­tion.

Con­cerned Res­i­dents of Penns­bury (CROP) is chal­leng­ing the school board’s plan. The ci­ti­zen’s group wants a nine-dis­trict re­align­ment of elec­toral re­gions.

When reached for com­ment, dis­trict so­lic­i­tor Jef­frey Sul­tanik said he could not say much be­cause the mat­ter is be­ing lit­i­gated.

How­ever, Sul­tanik did ex­plain that while no one knows when the pres­i­dent judge will is­sue her de­ci­sion, she is aware that her de­ci­sion needs to take place prior to Fe­bru­ary when new school board can­di­dates will be cir­cu­lat­ing pe­ti­tions to ob­tain board seats.

He said the school board’s goal “is to make equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in each of the three dis­tricts.”

Sul­tanik said, “The dis­trict ar­gued” on Oct. 15 be­fore -udJH 6FRWW WKDW WKH ERDUd’s SODn “IuO­fiOOHd WKH FRn­sWLWu­tional man­date of one per­son/one vote” and com­plied with the school code.

He said the board’s plan is “far bet­ter than CROP’s nine- re­gion ger­ry­man­dered plan.”

Sul­tanik said the law re­quires that if a school dis­trict has three or nine vot­ing re­gions that the re­gions have pop­u­la­tions that are as close to equal as is pos­si­ble.

He said the board be­lieves that the ex­ist­ing three-re­gion SODn nHHds Ls nRW finDO.

“It needs to be tweaked in or­der to bal­ance the shift­ing pop­u­la­tion dif­fer­en­tials within the dis­trict,” Sul­tanik said. “On the other hand,the nine-re­gion plan pro­posed by CROP is sim­ply a way to un­seat cur­rent board mem­bers who are not pop­u­lar with the teach­ers union that is back­ing the CROP pe­ti­tion.”

7KH sFKRRO dLsWULFW KDd fiOHd D PRWLRn Ln BuFNs CRunWy Court to throw out what has been re­ferred to as a “po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated” nine-dis­trict plan that chal­lenges the board’s unan­i­mously ap­proved reap­por­tion­ment plan. How­ever, the judge did not throw out CROP’s plan. David Tru­elove, CROP at­tor­ney, said that CROP is a group of con­cerned res­i­dents “who do not feel that the dis­WULFW’s SURSRsHd UHDOLJnPHnW SODn ZDs suI­fiFLHnW WR PHHW the re­quire­ments of the law.” He pointed out that CROP of­fered a choice. “We pre­sented a nine-re­gion plan, and an al­ter­nate, three-re­gion plan, both of which were more con­sis­tent with the le­gal re­quire­ments in the School Code,” he said.

CROP con­tends that the cur­rent school board “did not in­volve any res­i­dents or cit­i­zens to par­tic­i­pate in the plan­ning process - un­like so many other is­sues in Penns­bury, in­clud­ing the pop­u­la­tion study, which im­pacts di­rectly on re­gion­al­iza­tion.”

Tru­elove said this is why CROP cir­cu­lated a pe­ti­tion. The pe­ti­tion process, he said, “is di­rectly sanc­tioned by the School Code.”

More than 3,800 sig­na­tures were ob­tained for the pe­ti­tion, when only 940 were re­quired, ac­cord­ing to Tru­elove.

“What is at stake is the abil­ity for all res­i­dents and com­mu­ni­ties within Penns­bury to have a fair and equal voice in the gov­er­nance of the dis­trict,” he said. “As things now stand, and with the dis­trict’s pro­posed re­align­ment, the ‘North-South’ di­vide within Penns­bury will un­for­tu­nately be per­pet­u­ated.”

In June, the school board passed a three-re­gion plan, say­ing that the ac­tion was re­quired to com­ply with laws des­ig­nated un­der the state’s con­sti­tu­tion, which re­quires that vot­ing re­gions have equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

The pro­ce­dure is for the school board to seek ap­proval for reap­por­tion­ment to Bucks County Com­mon Pleas Court. Un­der the school dis­trict’s pe­ti­tion, there would still be three vot­ing dis­tricts, but each would have equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion – Re­gion 1 would have 23,928 peo­ple (33.62 per­cent), Re­gion 2 would have 23,273 (32.70 per­cent) and Re­gion 3 would have 23,964 (33.67 per­cent). Three board mem­bers would be elected from each re­gion.

How­ever, CROP, asked the court for con­sid­er­a­tion of a plan that would cre­ate nine vot­ing re­gions, each send­ing one rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the board of school di­rec­tors. The plan is be­ing called “Ci­ti­zen 1.” Led by for­mer school board mem­ber Ju­dith Pe­trangeli and ex-Penns­bury Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion (PEA) pres­i­dent and re­tired teacher John McDonnell, CROP con­tends that the cur­rent re­dis­trict­ing map no longer meets Penn­syl­va­nia’s pub­lic school code per­tain­ing to voter reg­is­tra­tion and pop­u­la­tion data.

CROP’s at­tor­ney said the group’s ul­ti­mate mo­ti­va­tion is “to have the best re­gion­al­iza­tion plan in or­der to com­ply with Penn­syl­va­nia code.”

The teach­ers union -- PEA (Penns­bury Ed­u­ca­tion As­soFLDWLRn) -- DsNHd WKH sWDWH WHDFKHU’s unLRn WR SURYLdH fi­nan­cial help to the cit­i­zens’ group in push­ing through an DOWHUnDWLYH UHdLsWULFWLnJ SODn, sSHFL­fiFDOOy WDUJHWLnJ DnWLunLRn sFKRRO dLUHFWRU 6LPRn CDPSEHOO Dnd KLs Ln­fluHnFH on the board. The let­ter also tar­gets school board mem­ber Kath­leen Zawacki.

The school dis­trict told the court that CROP’s pe­ti­tion is an at­tempt “to elect a board of school di­rec­tors of the School Dis­trict [which is,] po­lit­i­cally friendly to the PEA in its la­bor con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

Pres­i­dent Judge Scott pre­vi­ously cau­tioned both par­ties that pol­i­tics would not be part of the process.

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