Pennsbury awaits judge’s decision on reapportionment
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.