Taking the first step for zoning of the Pea Ridge School District, School Board members were to decide Monday, Sept. 13, whether to have five or seven districts.
As a result of the percentage of minority population within the district revealed in the 2020 census, the district must be zoned according to State law ACA 6-13-631 that states that any district that attains 10% minority population shall elect board members in compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 as amended.
With the release of the 2020 census, it was revealed that the numbers of students from a minority nearly doubled.
Pea Ridge School superintendent Keith Martin said the 2020 census showed a 17.2% minority population of the 10,046 total school district population compared to the 2010 numbers of 9.14% minority of a total of 7,990.
Board members must decide on three options. The options are to divide the district into either five or seven districts. With five districts, there can either be five board members or seven with two elected at large. The districts are to be divided into areas with substantially equal voting age population. The information must be reviewed and approved by the county election commission, according to Martin, then the approved zoning plan must be provided to the County Clerk.
A copy of the map must be provided to the Secretary of State and the Geographic Information Systems Office in addition to the county clerk. Martin said all of this must be completed by Dec. 2, 2021
"I will be recommending the approval of an MOU (memorandum of understanding) for Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission to serve as the district's demographer to draw zones and create a zoning plan for approval. Their service is at no charge to the district," Martin said.
Heretofore, Pea Ridge School District has had five board members, each elected for five-year terms, from anywhere in the district. The new plan will require board members to reside within the zone from which they're elected. Martin said since the zones are not yet drawn, it is unknown where current board members will be eligible for their seats. He also said there will be a process of providing the five-year terms with the first year, members elected to 1-, 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-year terms.
"It's a little different," Martin said. "This isn't an option to approve or not."
"We're going to need to be prepared to do this again in 19 years," Martin said.
"Our district is almost guaranteed to have to, not zone, but rezone, because all the housing that's being built right now is not included in the 2020 census. We'll have enough shift inside each zone, the lines will have to move a little bit," Martin said.
All zoned positions will be up for re-election.
If a resolution is passed requiring two at large positions, the board may choose to either have the two at-large positions selected by drawing lots from the existing board members or may have the at-large positions up for election in addition to the zoned positions.
The current board members may run based on zone residence.
Terms are established by everyone drawing lots after the results of the elections, Martin said, adding that no more than two members can be up for election in any year.
Requirements for candidates of the School Board are 1. reside in Pea Ridge School District, 2. reside in the zone; and 3. be a registered voter.
Dates pertaining to the School Board election are:
• Feb. 22, 2022 Opening of the candidate filing period;
• March 1, 2022 Close of candidate filing period at noon; and
• May 24, 2022 Date of annual school election.
The School Board meeting held Monday, Sept. 13, was after press time for The TIMES. Information about the meeting and the board's actions will be published in the Sept. 22 edition of The TIMES.