Two Richardson ISD trustees say they will not seek re-election to expedite opportunity for minority representation on board

From top left: Board members Karen Clardy, Eron Linn, Jean Bono, Katie Patterson, Kristin Kuhne, Superintendent Jeannie Stone, Justin Bono and Kim Caston.

From top left: Board members Karen Clardy, Eron Linn, Jean Bono, Katie Patterson, Kristin Kuhne, Superintendent Jeannie Stone, Justin Bono and Kim Caston.

Trustees Katie Patterson and Kristin Kuhne announced March 25 they will not seek re-election to Richardson ISD's board of trustees once their terms expire.

Both said they are motivated by a desire to see minority representation on the board as soon as possible.

“It’s my hope that our community will take this opportunity to elect a candidate that reflects the fantastic diversity of not only our community but that of the district as well,” said Patterson, whose term expires in November.

In January the district settled a lawsuit brought by a former trustee who accused RISD's at-large voting system of not only favoring white candidates but also discouraging minority candidates from seeking election.

Under the terms of the settlement, five of the board's seven trustees will be elected by residents of a specific geographic area while two will be elected by voters districtwide.

District 3 and 4 have been deemed "opportunity districts," meaning the majority of voting-age residents are of a minority race. Superintendent Jeannie Stone has recommended that at least one of these opportunity districts appear on the ballot for the upcoming election, slated to take place Nov. 6.

Under the state's education code it is the responsibility of the board to decide how best to transition to the new majority single-member district system. Board president Justin Bono said all current trustees will be able to finish their terms. As a result, the transition will occur over the course of three elections in November 2019, May 2020 and May 2021, Bono said.

Three draft plans for how to move forward with the transition are under consideration by the board. All three plans would shift Patterson's Place 4 to District 4 and Kuhne's Place 7 to District 3. Kuhne's seat would be on the ballot in May 2020.

All three options also have Eron Linn's Place 5 seat becoming District 2 because he is the only current trustee who resides in that area.

That leaves Jean Bono's Place 1, Kim Caston's Place 2, Karen Clardy's Place 3 and Justin Bono's Place 6 seats hanging in the balance. Clardy's position is up for election in November 2019; Justin Bono's is up in May 2020; and Jean Bono and Caston's terms expire in May 2021. Jean Bono said March 25 that while she has not made a final decision, she will probably not seek re-election at the end of her term.

"This [change] likely means that my own service will end in 2021," she said. "I want my fellow trustees to know I'm good with that."

It is unclear which of the two remaining four seats will shift to at-large representation. During a March 25 discussion, trustees debated whether or not to include an at-large seat on the upcoming November ballot.

In his presentation to the board, Justin Bono said at-large elections have historically seen improved voter turnout, and for that reason the two at-large seats will not appear on the same ballot.

"Separating out the at-large seats will ensure that there will be two election cycles with full voter engagement," he said.

Patterson said she believes that an at-large seat should be included on the November ballot to ease voters into the new system.

But Clardy said the at-large system's ability to increase turnout means those positions should be included on ballots during years where only two seats are up for election. The RISD board has an uneven number of trustees, so elections follow a 3-2-2 cycle, meaning every three years there is an opportunity for voters to elect three trustees instead of two.

The deadline for adopting a plan is Aug. 7, which is 90 days prior to Election Day; however, Bono said there is consensus among the board to have the transition plan approved sooner rather than later.
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