Normally, the census-required reapportionment of Pittsburgh School Districts creates none of the fanfare seen in city, state or congressional redistricting battles. But Shawn Carter, chief-of-staff to Councilman Ricky Burgess, and Reapportionment Committee co-chair warned that this year’s reapportionment is far from normal.
Due to population loss, he said, the district could see the loss of a Black board director or even the loss of an entire Black district.
“Since 1985 there have been three historically minority-majority districts, and a lot of people fought to get them,” he said. "Currently, even with four Black directors, only two districts have majority Black total populations, and none have voting-age Black majorities. They are diluted now, and this reapportionment will dilute them further.”
To balance the total populations of all nine school districts, the commission has calculated that each should contain 34,345 residents. In order to do that, district borders would have to be drawn to take residents from districts represented by Theresa Colaizzi, Sheri Hazuda, Regina Holley and William Isler.
Those districts, however, have Black populations of 12 percent, 7 percent, 22 percent and 5 percent, respectively. So, said Carter, those districts would have to give up White residents if they are to have any semblance of diversity. Thus the result would be 1,800 more White residents in Mark Brentley’s district, more than 2,800 in Sharene Shealey’s and more than 1,000 in Thomas Sumpter’s district.
“All of these school districts border each other, and all the Black voting districts that can be are already included in them,” said Carter. “So we have this equity issue we never had before, and the commission is taking cautious steps to do what’s fair. But we only had a 90-day window to do this, so we’re asking people to come and express their views.”
The “nuclear” solution would be to reduce the number of school districts to eight, which could preserve Black voting strength overall but would almost certainly require combining two of the three historically Black districts.
The commission’s next public meeting will be held tonight at King Elementary School on the North Side. The sites for two additional meetings on Oct. 16 and Oct. 23 have not been confirmed, but Carter said the Peabody High School Building in East Liberty and Brashear High School in Beechview are the probable sites.
Though some residents turned up after Carter sent out an email last month requesting community input, most thought the issue was about different feeder patterns new district lines might create.
“That’s understandable. Reapportionment only comes up every 10 years and this hasn’t been a problem, at least in the last two, because we had a large enough African American population to keep those three minority-majority districts,” said Carter. “But we can’t do this in a vacuum. I urge everyone, Black or White, be part of the discussion, part of the solution. Board members should come too because they don’t have the final say, we do.
“This is about African-American communities being able to choose their representatives,” he said. “What can we do that’s fair? That’s the question.”
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