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A lawsuit that claims school-board election methods cheat minorities out of seats at the table could shake up neighborhood politics.

Three of seven elected Richardson ISD trustees live in Lake Highlands, and they could be pitted against each other if the lawsuit has its way.

And history is in its favor.

Attorney Bill Brewer, representing former RISD trustee David Tyson in two lawsuits against the district, has won every similar case he’s tried.

Brewer Storefront, the pro bono arm of Dallas-based Brewer Attorneys & Counselors, filed claims of voting injustice and won against three suburban school districts over the past decade. 

The lawsuits ended at-large voting in Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Grand Prairie and Irving ISDs, and RISD could be next.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]The two lawsuits against RISD allege violations of the federal Voting Rights Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act.

“We don’t think any of the assertions are accurate,” says RISD Board of Trustees President Justin Bono. “But we’re going to work on it through the legal process, which, unfortunately, takes a long time.”

Tyson, the only minority who’s ever served on RISD’s board, claims that the district’s at-large election system discourages minority representation. He claims the all-white board members “prioritize [a] cluster of high-performing, primarily white schools at the expense of the rest of the community,” which has led to an “egregious performance gap” between affluent white students and others in the district.

“Maintaining the status quo at the highest levels of power keeps RISD frozen in time, lacks true democratic legitimacy, and inhibits the development of tools necessary to address the challenges of inequality and poverty that many of its students face daily,” Tyson states in the lawsuit.

In the second lawsuit, Tyson accuses trustees of meeting secretly to discuss business, in violation of Texas law, and then covering their tracks by erasing incriminating texts, emails and phone messages. As evidence, he points to more than 500 unanimous votes over the last seven years, “votes that appear swift and uncontested, but in truth have been choreographed behind the scenes.”

The cases could settle or go to trial, but Tyson’s attorneys propose changing from at-large voting to single-member districts.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]That would make the way RISD school board members are elected look dramatically different.

Changing to single-member districts would require a voter map to be drawn to include at least two districts that likely would elect minority candidates, based on population statistics. The lawsuit proposes districts with lines drawn around Hamilton Park, majority African-American, and around the Central Expressway and Midpark area, majority Hispanic.

In that scenario, four of six current trustees could be forced off the board:

Current board members Justin Bono, Jean Bono and Karen Clardy live in Lake Highlands near Moss Haven within half a mile of each other.

Kim Caston, Kristin Kuhne and Katie Patterson live within 2.5 miles in the J.J. Pearce feeder pattern along Campbell Road.

The three in Lake Highlands likely would be drawn into the same district, as would the Pearce three. They could run against each other or decline to run for re-election.

Though Justin Bono doesn’t agree with Brewer’s assertions, and RISD answered the voting rights suit by denying all of the allegations, Bono indicated this past summer that the district isn’t going in with guns blazing.

“We’re working diligently with our attorney, and we’ll hopefully find an outcome that is both agreeable to our board and to all our stakeholders in the district through this process,” Bono says. “At any point in time, there are twists and turns in litigation. It would be inappropriate to discuss thoughts on litigation because it can change at any point in the process.”

Brewer says he refuses to settle unless the solution “provides adequate opportunity for representation from those parts of the community that have no representation now.” New electoral districts that accomplish this goal are not only possible, he says, referring to the maps his firm drew, but also required by the Voting Rights Act.

“When we file a lawsuit like this, what we’re hoping to do is effect meaningful change. We hope that can come through conversation and collaboration on what type of system is needed,” Brewer says. “But unless that occurs, we prepare for the worst, and the worst is not a bad alternative: We get ready to go to trial.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”15″ item=”82727″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1537555252526-bd505a7265ebf27ba7211b09c70050de-10″ taxonomies=”8476″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

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