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RISD can wait until 2022 to redraw districts, attorney says

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The Roswell Independent School District — along with other local governing bodies in the state — will have a bit of relief from one of its biggest duties that comes along every decade, according to the district’s legal counsel.

Redistricting is the process of drawing electoral districts that is completed in each state after the completion of the U.S. Census. Districts are redrawn based on population for federal, state and local offices.

This time around, however, school districts will not have to redraw their boundaries until 2022, Geno Zamora, a partner in the Santa Fe law firm Ortiz and Zamora, told the RISD school board at Tuesday’s meeting. The firm is the board’s legal counsel.

That change comes from a 2019 state law, House Bill 407, that shifted the timing of school board elections, Zamora said.

“In 2019, HB 407 sort of turned elections on its head in New Mexico for local governments. For school districts, it shifted those elections from the first week of February to November of odd-numbered years,” he said.

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Zamora said language in the bill also shifted the timing of redistricting for local public bodies including school districts. He said it’s a change that has slipped notice among many people and that he only became aware of it in doing research for his presentation to the board.

A section of HB 407 states, “In the calendar year following the receipt of the results of a federal decennial census, each local public body subject to districting shall create or redraw districts for the local public body.”

Zamora said that will be especially helpful considering delays in 2020 Census results due to the pandemic and lawsuits over including a citizenship question on the census.

Zamora said census results are not expected to be released until summer, possibly as late as July. The filing date for RISD school board seats is Aug. 24, according to the Chaves County Clerk’s Office.

Three RISD seats will be up for election in November — District 1, represented by Mona Kirk; District 3, represented by Milburn Dolen; and District 5, represented by James Edwards. None have yet announced if they will run.

“What that has done, rather than having to do redistricting this summer and try to rush and get new districts in time for filing deadlines for a November election, the Legislature pushed it into next year,” Zamora said.

“It’s actually created a little bit of relief for us,” he said.

But, he said, now is a good time for the board to begin thinking about the process.

“You are beginning to enter the process for budgeting for next school year and you don’t want to forget to budget specifically for redistricting,” Zamora said.

He said the board should expect to spend between $15,000 and $30,000 for a redistricting consultant, depending on what they want the consultant to do.

Some governing bodies, especially small school districts or municipalities, have a consultant draw a couple of maps for them to vote on, he said. Others prefer to have three or four maps drawn and have public meetings to get input from residents.

“The more meetings you add, the more redraws of a map you add, the broader the presentation process, that’s going to be your difference in pricing,” he said.

Factors that can change a governing body’s districts include not just population growth, but also residential growth in one part of a community, and the change in ages of a section of a community — such as if children who were school-age 10 years ago have now grown up and moved out of the area, Zamora said. New employers or businesses that have closed in the last decade can also affect populations, he said.

Districts must be drawn to give equal representation for the population, Zamora said. For school boards, that means no more than plus or minus 5% of the average population for a district.

As an example, he said if Roswell had a population of 50,000, then each of the RISD school board districts ideally would have 10,000 people but could range from 9,500 to 10,500.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.