Under the drafted Blaine school board district boundaries presented in a special board meeting November 22, Birch Bay could gain a simple majority on the board in upcoming elections if residents in the new boundaries decided to run, and win. This possibility, however, did not comfort residents looking for more Birch Bay representation on the board and in the district.
During the redistricting plan special meeting, Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce secretary Doralee Booth and Birch Bay State Park board member Pat Jerns voiced their concerns of the lack of representation that the unincorporated, 10,115-person area has. Only one of the five school board members lives in Birch Bay. Booth mentioned the difficulties of transportation from the south end of the district and not having a school in the Birch Bay area, which makes up nearly two-thirds of the district’s population.
“We feel like with this map that we just do not have a sense of place for the Birch Bay community,” Booth said.
According to 2020 U.S. Census data, 58 percent of children – persons under 18 years of age – in the school district reside in Birch Bay, and 80 percent of children under 5 years of age reside in Birch Bay. Through 2021 tax contributions, Birch Bay residents also contribute 36 percent of the school district’s funding, while Blaine contributes about 24 percent.
Blaine school district is divided into five director districts with one representative from each district serving on the board of directors. These district boundaries must be reviewed every 10 years following the release of the census to ensure equal representation on the board.
Sammamish Data Systems, which prepared the districting boundaries in 2010, is doing it again this year.
Because the district is stretched long and thin along the water, Sammamish Data Systems representative Bob Schweitzer said it was a difficult district to reevaluate. This is also what may be causing some residents’ dissatisfaction.
Many of the district areas are stretched lengthwise, incorporating parts of Blaine and Birch Bay. Some areas are even divided geographically; the fifth district includes both Semiahmoo and Point Whitehorn. Booth said these areas couldn’t possibly have the same issues as one another.
But the problem lies with the shape of the district and the law, Schweitzer said, which requires new boundaries to meet five criteria:
• Balancing population: Since the school board represents all residents, the total population of each director district is considered, not just the population of residents who are receiving the district’s educational services.
• Compactness: Director districts should not be unnecessarily thin or serpentine.
• Geographical contiguity: The district’s unique geographical landscape, which includes bodies of ocean water as well as an international boundary, provides a significant challenge to meeting this criterion. To overcome this challenge, contiguity has been determined using census blocks.
• No racial group or political party is favored or disfavored: In addition to ensuring equal representation of all residents, the director districts must not favor or disfavor any racial group. Additionally, protecting the position of current board members, as well as existing candidates, ensures fair political treatment in the redistricting process.
• Alignment with natural boundaries and preservation of communities of interest: Wherever possible, director district boundaries follow existing roadways and boundary lines. Efforts are made to preserve any communities with common interests inside a single director district.
Schweitzer said due to the shape of the school district, compactness was given least priority when drafting the boundaries.
The law’s fourth requirement – no racial group or political party is favored or disfavored – means that the districts cannot be redrawn without including the current board member, Schweitzer said, as they are considered a political party under the law.
Because Birch Bay has a larger population and contributes more to the district’s financing, Jerns asked whether the redistricting should protect the interest of the people in a given area. “Shouldn’t there be more weight given to redistricting this and protecting the interest of the people in that area rather than the directors that have been the long-standing Blaine citizens?”
Schweitzer said current board members aren’t protected in the new drafted plan. “The actual encroachment of the northern director districts into the Birch Bay area actually makes them more susceptible to being lost to activity in the Birch Bay area,” he said. “This plan actually has the ability to elect – if you have people in the right parts of the Birch Bay area – four new board members in the four new districts all from Birch Bay.”
The board has long-term plans to build a school in Birch Bay.
The meeting was cut short to begin the board’s regular monthly meeting.
At the end of the regular board meeting on November 22, the board discussed Booth and Jerns’ concerns. Some were confused as to how the residents did not see the possible opportunity the new boundary lines offered.
“[Birch Bay] could potentially be represented by four school board members,” said board member Dougal Thomas. This would give Birch Bay a simple majority on the board.
Board president Charles Gibson said he thought the discussion was on the verge of progress before the meeting was cut short. “I think it’s important enough that we need to hear from them,” he said.
Another meeting will be scheduled for before December 6, superintendent Christopher Granger said.
To view the proposed redistricting map, visit the Blaine school district website at bit.ly/30PLd43.
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