A lawsuit filed against Lewisville ISD claims the school district’s at large voting system denies Hispanic, African-American and Asian voters a fair opportunity to elect school board members of their choice.
Law firm Brewer Storefront filed suit in federal court Feb. 12 on behalf of Frank Vaughan against LISD and its trustees. The suit alleges the school district’s election system violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it denies fair representation to minority voters.
It is unclear what the suit means for the school district’s May 4 election. Three seats are on the ballot. All three seats—places 3, 4 and 5—have incumbents running for re-election. Only Place 4 has a challenger.
As of Community Impact Newspaper’s Feb. 26 press deadline, LISD could not say whether the May election would be postponed. The district also declined to comment about the merits of the suit.
William A. Brewer III, partner at Brewer Storefront and lead counsel for Vaughan, said he is asking LISD to hold off on any board elections until the suit is resolved.
“Our client believes the voting scheme utilized by Lewisville ISD unfairly denies people of color a fair opportunity to elect candidates of their choosing—trustees that represent their interests, schools and communities,” Brewer stated in a news release. “We believe the school board should adopt a more representative electoral process to serve this multiracial and ethnically diverse school district.”
Under the current electoral system, candidates run for specific places but do not represent a specific geographic area. The lawsuit claims the at large system allows white residents to vote as a block and deny political opportunity to nonwhite voters.
A similar suit against Richardson ISD was settled in January with the district moving its May election to November. As part of the settlement, RISD agreed to have five board members elected to represent specific geographic areas. Two others will be elected at large to represent the district as a whole.
Brewer Storefront successfully resolved similar Voting Rights Act cases with Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD in 2015 and Grand Prairie ISD in 2014. It also won at trial in similar suits involving Irving ISD and the cities of Irving and Farmers Branch.
Former LISD board trustee Brenda Latham is not involved with the lawsuit. But she said she believes LISD should have moved away from the at large voting system years ago.
“There are areas in the district that aren’t represented,” she said. “They don’t have a board member on the board looking out for them.”
Latham said when she was first elected to the school board in 2010, she was the only trustee from Lewisville.
“I had to get the voter bloc out of Flower Mound to support me,” she said. “You just don’t have the voter turnout in Lewisville that you need to win that election.”
None of the current trustees live in Lewisville, which is where most of the minority population lives, according to Census data. Two of the trustees have a Lewisville address but live in Castle Hills, an area set to be annexed by the city in 2021.
LISD’s seven-member school board is all white. So is the district’s eight-member leadership team, which includes Superintendent Kevin Rogers.
That compares with more than 58 percent of the student body last school year made up of minority children, according to the Texas Education Agency. During the 2017-18 school year, the student population was 41.3 percent white, 29.6 percent Hispanic, 14.3 percent Asian and 10.7 percent African American.
With more than 50,000 students drawing from parts of 13 cities, it’s one of the largest school districts in North Texas. LISD has also become one of the most diverse. In the mid-90s, LISD’s student body was 84 percent white. Minorities now make up a majority of the student population.
The suit also notes an achievement gap between the district’s schools that have a majority of white students and the schools that educate mostly non-white students.
Less than a quarter of non-white students are performing at grade level. That compares with at least two-thirds of students in the majority white, predominantly affluent elementary schools who are performing at grade level, the suit states.
Vaughan said in the suit he is concerned about the students who attend, College Street Elementary School, which is in his neighborhood. Only 32 percent of the school’s students met grade-level requirements across all grades and subjects tested on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams in 2018.
That year, about 67 percent of the school’s children enrolled were economically disadvantaged, and about 65 percent were minorities, according to the suit.
An economically disadvantaged student is defined by the TEA as a student who is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch meals or eligible for other public assistance.
The district’s highest-performing elementary school is located in the affluent Castle Hills subdivision. About 84 percent of Castle Hills Elementary students met grade level across all grades and subjects tested.
“The board consistently prioritizes this cluster of high-performing, predominantly affluent schools at the expense of the rest of the community,” the suit alleges.
Single-member district debate
Lewisville resident Tamela Bowie, who had two children graduate from Lewisville High School, said she is in favor of single-member districts.
“This can only help; it can’t be hurtful,” she said. “Nobody is going to lose representation, but it’s going to give some of the other municipalities a chance to have someone on the board represent them.”
Flower Mound resident Don McDaniel said he has some concerns moving away from the at large voting system.
“It can become an avenue for corruption and cronyism,” he said. “The idea of, ‘I’ll vote for your thing today if you vote for mine next week’ can become a real issue. At that point, it becomes more about trading favors and protecting power than serving the
Bowie said in the past, Lewisville has suffered from not having a board member who lives there. She cited several major decisions, including closing Hedrick Elementary School at the end of this school year and dividing Lewisville High School into three campuses.
Those decisions might not have changed even with a board member from Lewisville, she said.
“But someone from Lewisville who had a child that went to those schools could have given them an angle that the other board members who don’t live in Lewisville don’t have,” she said. “This has nothing to do with gender or race.
“It’s all about having someone who lives where you live represent you.”