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Redistricting at Local Level Reveals Changes to Arkansas School Board Elections

UA Division of Agriculture

Arkansas school districts might soon have to change how they elect their boards because of newly released data from the 2020 U.S. Census. The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Research and Extension held a virtual panel meeting Wednesday featuring guests who discussed the impact redistricting has on local communities and how the census data is a catalyst for these changes.

One of the featured panelists, Washington County Election Commission Director Jennifer Price, said election commissions across the state are about a month or two behind schedule due to the late release of census data. County election commissions are responsible for redrawing quorum court or justice of the peace districts and approving school district zone maps.

“One of the surprising things that came out of the census is that there are a majority of the school districts across the state that now will be electing their school board members by zone rather than at-large,” Price said.

Prior to the new data, Washington County had eight school districts, with only four using zone elections. Now, all eight districts will require zone elections to select school board members.

Districts planning to have elections in May will face a Dec. 1 deadline for school board zone maps to be approved by county election commissions.

“Look at your school districts,” Price said, “because if they are holding their elections in May, then they should already be meeting or should be meeting in October and November to discuss the zone maps.”

School districts will have to decide how they want to set up their local boards. School boards can have either five members elected by zone, seven members elected by zone, or five members elected by zone and two members elected at large.

Kristin Higgins with the Public Policy Center at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture told participants in the meeting, “You do not need to have a child in school to vote for the school board.”

Price encouraged voters to focus on local elections, instead of favoring state or federal elections. She said there is only a 5% voter turnout for school board elections, which means a small number of voters are determining how money is spent in the county.

“I think we need to start thinking of our election ballot from the bottom up rather than from the top down,” Price said.

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