The Fort Worth school board cemented how its students will be represented for the next decade by approving a new district voting map on Tuesday.
Plan E-2, which was recommended by election lawyers and a board-appointed redistricting committee, was approved with a modification by a 5-3 vote. Board members gridlocked twice over the designation of a precinct representing Historic Southside.
Redistricting amid a growing Fort Worth
Most governmental bodies participate in the redrawing of electoral boundaries to properly reflect population growth, decline or any other demographic changes based on recent U.S. Census data.
Redistricting is intended to aid equal voter representation and proper federal funding.
In the 2020 Census, Fort Worth saw significant population growth, especially in the western and southwestern parts of the city, represented primarily by Districts 5 and 7.
The eight-person redistricting committee unanimously recommended Plan E-2 following a series of meetings and community town halls. The map makes changes to each of the district’s nine electoral boundaries.
Under federal law, the population within all electoral boundaries should be nearly equal, with up to a 10% difference between the highest and lowest populated district.
For Plan E-2, the highest populated district is District 7 with 60,545 people and the lowest is District 1 with 54,902 people. This results in a 9.77% deviation.
The maps should also be drawn in a way that does not dilute the voting strength of racial minorities.
Plan E-2 contains six minority-majority boundaries and three non-minority boundaries: Districts 5, 6 and 7.
Other criteria considered for this process included keeping boundaries reasonably compact, minimizing voter precinct splits and maintaining communities of interest, such as neighborhood associations, elections lawyer Rolando Rios said during the meeting.
Gridlocked over Historic Southside
Judge Sergio De Leon, Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 and member of the redistricting committee, said a board member reached out to him and expressed concerns over percentages in a specific minority population and asked the committee to review Plan E-3.
The committee decided that E-2 has a higher minority population for that region and chose to recommend it. Plan E-3 would have also separated southside Fort Worth neighborhoods such as Fairmount and South Hemphill Heights, De Leon said.
District 1 trustee Jacinto Ramos said he’s the one who doesn’t think his district has favorable lines, specifically how the district is pushed farther west.
“That doesn’t sit too well with folks in District 1,” he said.
Ramos said he believes part of this alignment happened because he lost his representative, Norma Garcia-Lopez, on the committee. Garcia-Lopez stepped down from the committee and her role as co-chair of the district’s racial equity committee in early December when she was accused of doxxing and said she received dozens of racist and threatening messages.
But Ramos’ proposed modification was not for his district, but instead for District 4.
District 4’s seat is currently vacant because of the death of trustee Daphne Brookins in November. The district is a minority-majority district that represents parts of southeast Fort Worth and includes O. D. Wyatt High School.
Ramos’ modification suggested that Precinct 1005, which covers most of the predominantly Black Historic Southside neighborhood, be switched from District 2 back to District 4.
Ramos said the precinct was represented by District 4 previously and should remain there. District 2 is also a minority-majority district but is represented by board President Tobi Jackson, who is white.
“This is just [about] being able to address what has historically happened in communities of color,” he said. “And I’m very sensitive to that neighborhood.”
District 5 trustee CJ Evans said the idea to change the precinct was proposed two days before Brookins’ death.
The modified motion failed 4-4, with trustees Anne Darr, Anael Luebanos and Michael Ryan and Jackson voting no.
After the motion failed, District 3 trustee Quinton Phillips expressed his frustration with the board, saying the change is a simple fix to make sure everyone’s voice can be heard and have a right to be represented properly.
“I cannot sit here and be that guy that sat idly by yet again while Black people got screwed over,” he said. “Because that’s what’s about to happen.”
A second motion, to approve Plan E-2 without the modification, also failed 4-4, with Phillips, Ramos, Evans and District 9 trustee Roxanne Martinez voting no.
Ramos proposed Plan E-2 with the precinct modification again, and it passed 5-3, with Ryan changing his vote.
During public comment, resident Todd Daniel said the board should wait until it fills the vacant District 4 seat before approving the map. The board called for a May special election for the vacant district during Tuesday’s meeting.
Rios told the board that they are required to approve a new map prior to conducting any special election to fill the seat.
During public comment, some residents urged the district to get more community input before approving the map.
De Leon told the board that the committee sought out to create an honest, transparent and community-driven process, and he believes they achieved that goal.
“We wanted the Fort Worth ISD redistricting process to be a model for redistricting on how it should be done,” he said.