FORT WORTH -- School trustees' discussion about redrawing school board voting districts became heated Tuesday night, particularly among some Hispanic advocates who say the proposed map won't help that community get the voice it deserves.
But an advisory committee that recommended the boundaries stood by the plan, saying it would strengthen Hispanics' chances to elect candidates of their choice.
However, the two Hispanics on the committee have voted against that plan.
The school district is redrawing voting districts as required after every census. But this time, the work has an extra complication: The district is moving from eight single-member districts with the president elected by voters at large to nine single-member districts with the president elected by trustees.
The map presented Tuesday creates a new District 9 largely from northeastern parts of the city.
A major point of contention was District 8, which is represented by Juan Rangel. The proposed plan puts the Park Hill neighborhood north of TCU, which has been in District 5, in District 8. Residents of Park Hill had asked to be moved so they could vote for a trustee who represents Paschal High School, where their children attend.
But as drawn, moving that one largely Anglo and affluent neighborhood into District 8 would greatly reduce the chances that a Hispanic candidate would be elected, opponents said.
The board has two Latinos: Carlos Vasquez and Rangel.
"We're just asking for a voice," south Fort Worth resident Fernando Florez said. "Hispanics don't have much of a voice up there now, but we make up about 60 percent of the students."
Rolando Rios, the attorney who represented a group of Hispanics in the last redistricting lawsuit against the district, said he could not support the proposed plan because the Anglos in the District 8 could essentially outvote Latinos. Anglos and the more-educated vote at significantly higher rates than Hispanics and those in lower socioeconomic groups, he said.
As a result, the proposed map is "is violation of the law," Rios said. "In our view it is an illegal retrogression."
But Bert Williams, a former Fort Worth councilman who chaired the advisory committee, said the Hispanic representation in many districts is higher than it was a decade ago, largely driven by the dramatic increase in that population.
For example, District 8 would go from being 61.3 to 64.4 percent Hispanic under the plan.
"I don't understand 'retrogression' with the figures getting larger. I was a math teacher," Williams said. "You can't say that we didn't give opportunity."
Vasquez and Rangel indicated that they do not support the map as is. Other trustees said they, too, had changes they want considered.
Changes must ultimately be approved by the U.S. Justice Department.
"This does lay the foundation for what we need, but we probably need to do some tweaking," Trustee Christene Moss said.
Some residents spoke in support of the proposed map, including those from the Oakhurst neighborhood, who would be included in the same voting district as Carter-Riverside High School, where their children go. Some of Oakhurst is now represented by Vasquez and some by Trustee Tobi Jackson.
Redistricting work began relatively smoothly. But this summer, former school board President William Koehler resigned from the advisory committee after a map that the advisory committee as a whole had not voted on was brought before the board. Koehler said that tainted the integrity of the process, and he declined to participate.