Adventures in Gerrymandering, QV Style

March is typically a very busy month for me and mine – two birthdays and a wedding anniversary all converge within 15 days during that month. Combine this with watching our granddaughter and the usual challenges of working in a 24/7 environment, and the time seems to go too fast.

This doesn’t stop me from researching and formulating ideas, of which there are many that will make their way to this page..eventually.

As a follow-up to my post from February, I thought I would try my hand at adjusting the composition of the Quaker Valley School District’s three voting regions, so that the population per region got as close to equal as possible, using the same 2010 Census data.

While doing that, I attempted contact with board members and other stakeholders to try to elicit some opinion or perspective about what appears on paper to be a disparity in representation, and whether or not this disparity may be evaluated in the future.

These stakeholders included Dr. Shelby Stewman of Carnegie-Mellon University, to whom I e-mailed questions about his scope of work for the analysis that QV commissioned from him. Dr. Stewman did not respond to my e-mail inquiry – not that I expected him to, but it was worth a try.

I also elected to try again to re-contact QV board members via e-mail, despite not hearing from any of them on my first attempt through QV Communications Director Angela Yingling. This time, I tried only to reach those board members in Region I, who represent where I live. Surprisingly, all three replied within three days.

Board members Gianni Floro, Daniela Helkowski, and Jon Kuzma all agreed that the disparity was an issue worthy of additional discussion once Dr. Stewman’s analysis was received and reviewed, but also agreed that the current system continues to serve the district well. Ms. Helkowski went as far to state “at this time I feel that the discrepancy is not significant enough to merit realignment“.

QVSD Region Graphic 0215

Current Quaker Valley School District voting regions and population data.


Considering that Region I is currently the most balanced in terms of proportional representation, I can perhaps understand their perspective. I have to wonder out loud if the board members representing Region III would feel the same way, and perhaps I should have polled them for an opinion as well.

Instead, I thought I would tweak the above map, and see what a hypothetical balance of population for each region would look like.  This brought out some of the subtleties of demography that worm their way into all manner of political subdivisions – most notoriously in the form of gerrymandering.

QVSD Region Graphic 0215 ReApp 1Let’s just move the colored pieces around like a child’s slide puzzle –  Edgeworth to Region I, Bell Acres to Region III. Sewickley Heights gets to join lonesome Sewickley in Region II, which puts it right at 1/3 of the total population, with the other two regions less than a percentage point away. Easy, right?

Well, not so fast, some will say. Do all regions have a school facility in them? Well, yes. Are the regions geographically contiguous? Yes to that as well. What other factors, such as median age or income, would impact the decision-making here?

I’ve nary a clue – that’s for the Ph.D at CMU. Woo-hoo.

There is one curious historical tidbit that I found, however, in a history of Sewickley Heights Borough on the Library’s website:

In the 1960s, a notable success story in preserving the rural character of Sewickley Heights was the creation of a 130 acre park, formerly part of the Lewis Park estate. This land, slated to be the site of a new public school, was purchased by residents at the turn of the last century to be set aside for park use in perpetuity.

So there is a history of resistance to development of land in the Heights for anything approaching a school facility. Kind of makes me chuckle to think that my contemporaries in high school that hung out at “Tortilla Flats” may have been standing on land that could have been the high school if not for some resolute grownups.

QVSD Region Graphic 0215 ReApp 2

Here’s an example of a slightly more haphazard attempt at achieving population balance. The numbers approach parity like the first example, but Region III does not have a school building in it, and Region I is not contiguous.

Does this stuff really matter? Sure it does, especially if you’re a taxpayer seeking effective representation. This is something that QV taxpayers have a history of – witness this example of opposition to school development in Bell Acres in the 1970’s.

To be honest with both you and myself, I approached this little project with my mind made up about something.  Sewickley Borough should not be entitled to 1/3 of the seats on the QV board, or be allowed to stand alone as its own region, unless it has the population to justify it.

As it happens, this is an election year for 5 of the 9 board seats. Incumbents Floro, Riker, Pusateri, and Watters have all successfully cross-filed on both major party tickets for re-election in May’s primary, as has a newcomer, Marna Karcher Blackmer of Edgeworth, to replace the outgoing Mark Rodgers in Region III. So there will likely be just one new face on the board when it reorganizes after the November general election.

I’m looking forward to see how the current and future Quaker Valley school boards will receive and apply their impending compendium of demographic derring-do, for the benefit of students and taxpayers alike. I’m sure a lot of my fellow taxpayers will be doing the same. The board’s next work session is scheduled for this coming Tuesday, April 14.

Talk to you soon.

This entry was posted in Local, Personal, Politics, Schools and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Adventures in Gerrymandering, QV Style

  1. Pingback: Post-Election Digest – Old, New, Absent, Through | John Linko

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