Iberville School Board revamp calls for 9 seats

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down Voting Rights Act preclearing requirements means the 15-member Iberville Parish School Board must whittle itself down to nine members.

The board already had adopted a 13-member redistricting plan by the time the High Court ruled last month, but members had been told they could ignore a 2010 state law requiring them to cut down the size of the board to no more than nine seats.

The School Board now faces redrawing its district lines by August 2014, a week before qualifying deadlines for the School Board’s October 2014 elections.

“Under the federal laws at the time the 2010 law was passed by the state Legislature, before you could implement change, it had to be precleared by the (U.S.) Justice Department,” said Glenn Koepp, of Redistricting LLC. “But the (2010) law didn’t mandate that the School Board give the Justice Department a plan, which is why it has been in limbo for awhile.”

It was Koepp who initially told the board it could ignore the state Legislature’s 2010 law reapportioning the Iberville Parish School Board that had been submitted by then-Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete.

However, the Supreme Court’s June 25 ruling abolishing Justice Department approval requirements — called “preclearance” ­— on every election matter in several states caused Marionneaux’s law to instantly take effect, Koepp said.

That means the board will have to put aside the 13-member redistricting plan it approved in December and draw up what Marionneaux’s law calls for — a board consisting of eight single-member districts and one at-large member to oversee Iberville’s public school system.

Koepp told the board last week it needs to create a nine-member plan made up of four minority districts and four majority-white districts to fall in line with other portions of the Voting Rights Act, which continues to bar governing bodies from discrimination and voter suppression efforts.

Koepp presented the board with census data showing Iberville Parish’s racial makeup is virtually balanced, with whites making up 49.8 percent of the population and blacks constituting 48.6 percent. Currently, nine white people and six black people sit on the School Board.

A board majority asked Koepp to create a new set of reapportionment maps for a board with nine members.

However, the School Board adopted a resolution asking the parish’s four-member legislative delegation to request the 2014 Legislature to permit the board to hold on to its 13-member plan, which mirrors the Parish Council’s makeup.

Asked about the move, state Sen. Rick Ward III, D-Port Allen, said he has no intention of getting involved in the School Board remapping issue.

“I don’t see where it would be proper to go back and reverse something at this point that appears to be done correctly,” Ward said. “If it would have been shown that it wasn’t a good law, maybe I would have gone that route.”

State Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville, said he’s not taking any position right now on the reapportionment issue. “I don’t have enough details,” he said.

State Reps. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, and Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, did not return calls seeking comment.