School board seeks more public input on new voting maps

"WASTE OF TIME": In a special work session Jan. 11, members of the Buncombe County Board of Education expressed frustrations with three potential maps that would split school populations between voting districts because of a state law passed in 2023. Photo by Greg Parlier

The Buncombe County Board of Education doesn’t particularly like any of its options for new voting maps, which are required by a law the N.C. General Assembly passed last fall.

In a special work session Jan. 11, the board reviewed three finalized options for redrawn maps of the district’s six voting districts, along with public comments from an online survey and additional data about the maps.

As summarized by board member Rob Elliot, many of the public comments submitted to the district reflect the board’s own exasperation with the entire process.

“There’s a lot of people who are saying, ‘This is ridiculous, this is a waste of time and money. We don’t need to do this, this is not broken,’” Elliot said.

Currently, Buncombe elects one school board member to represent each of the county’s six attendance zones — Enka, Erwin, Owen, North Buncombe, Reynolds and Roberson — and one at-large member. Candidates must live in the district they represent and run on a nonpartisan basis. Meanwhile, residents can vote for all school board representatives, regardless of their address.

Based on the new law, voters who live in the newly drawn districts will vote only for the representative running in the district in which they live. The law doesn’t change where students will go to school, only school board representation. Unlike the attendance zone-based lines, which are drawn around the district’s high schools based on geography, the district has to create six districts approximately equal in population.

Adam Mitchell of Tharrington Smith LLC and Blake Esselstyn of Mapfigure Consulting designed three maps that prioritize the board’s wishes as closely as possible while still following the new law.

As a result, several attendance zones might see up to 30% of its population reassigned to other districts, according to the data provided in the proposals.

The Reynolds district would see the most significant change, with each option moving at least 27% of its population into other districts.

The Roberson and Erwin districts also see significant change in their populations in all three options.

While option “A” received the most votes from the 112 parents, employees and community members in the online survey, Elliot and board member Amy Churchill, who represent Reynolds and Roberson, respectively, said they don’t like how Glen Arden Elementary gets split between the two districts in that option.

Elliot prefers option “C” because it keeps the entire populations of Glen Arden, Charles C. Bell and Haw Creek elementary schools in one district or another, even though other elementary school populations get split.

There is no option where an elementary school population would not be split between two voting districts.

Options “B” and “C” also create noncontiguous sections around UNC Asheville and Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, where certain neighborhoods are separated from the rest of their districts.

“If you’re looking to make people happy, that train left the station,” said board Chair Ann Franklin.

“I know you’re trying to make a very hard decision, to make the best decision you can, but it’s very important to continue to reiterate that you did not ask for this. We didn’t consider it to be broken at all,” said board attorney Dean Shatley. “Whatever you do here does not change those attendance lines for students. This is just about the election.”

CLEAN AUDIT: In addition to receiving a clean audit of fiscal year 2022-23’s financial statements, Buncombe County Schools’ finance department was recognized Jan. 11 for awards from the Government Finance Officers Association and the Association of School Business Officials. Photo by Greg Parlier

The board decided to show all three maps at a special public hearing Feb. 15. After collecting more feedback at that meeting, it will vote on a new map in March or April ahead of the June candidate filing period for November’s general election. Four of the board’s seven seats will be on the ballot this year.

Buncombe Schools receives clean 2022-23 audit

Buncombe County Schools’ finance department received a clean audit for fiscal year 2022-23.

“This is a clean opinion, this is the best opinion that you can receive on a financial statement audit. So congratulations. That is an excellent achievement,” said Shannon Dennison, who presented the audit findings on behalf of accounting firm Anderson Smith and Wike at the Jan. 11 Buncombe County Board of Education meeting.

The auditor found no misstatements in the district’s financial statements and had no disagreements with management, Dennison said.

BCS has received a clean audit for at least the last 10 years, according to financial statements posted on the district’s website.

In its general fund, BCS spent about $82.4 million of its $82.8 million in revenue, leaving the fund balance at about $10.6 million at the end of the last fiscal year. About a third of that balance was allocated to be spent in the current fiscal year, partially to cover the loss of federal COVID-era funds.

In the enterprise fund, the auditor took a close look at the district’s child nutrition and child care cash flows. In both departments, whose services are paid in part by parents and aren’t completely government funded, the district finished the year with more cash on hand than when it started.

Dennison was particularly impressed with the child nutrition department, which had about $26,000 left over of its about $10.5 million budget.

“[You did an] excellent job in managing revenue versus expenditures, especially coming out of COVID. We’re seeing across a lot of districts a lot of fluctuation, because it’s really hard to predict [the amount of] students that are going to be eating meals and with the increased cost of food,” she said.

Overall, BCS is likely to face budgetary challenges in the coming years as the last of COVID-era funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund sunsets in 2024, Dennison said.

Fortunately for BCS, its fund balance in the last two fiscal years has been as high as it has been since 2017, according to Dennison’s presentation, allowing for some wiggle room while the district adjusts to the loss of additional federal funds.


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One thought on “School board seeks more public input on new voting maps

  1. Keith Thomson

    Politicians are tearing down our public schools and dividing our community, and now the chickens are coming home to roost for our being misrepresented by Senator Warren Daniels, R-Morganton. NC Senate Dist 46.

    John Ager of Fairview is stepping up to run for the NC SENATE serving us in East Buncombe to Burke Counties in November FOR public school students, families, teachers, and staff.

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