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Councilman: Not enough black voters for three seats on Pittsburgh school board

| Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, 8:00 a.m.

Black voters in Pittsburgh could lose their hold on three school board seats in Pittsburgh Public Schools because of population shifts the past decade.

City Councilman Ricky Burgess warned the School District Reapportionment Commission at its meeting Tuesday night that there are not enough black voters to have three traditionally black seats on the school board. He suggested two predominantly black seats.

Burgess is one of two black councilmen in the city, and its districts are being redrawn, too.

The School District Reapportionment Commission called the meeting in the John P. Robin Civic Building, Downtown, to discuss the possible impact of the 2010 census on the boundaries of the nine school board districts.

Under state law, the commission must redraw district boundaries every 10 years. The goal is to make the districts about the same size in population, compact and contiguous and to promote racial balance.

“The majority of students that are actually in Pittsburgh Public Schools are of African-American descent,” said board member Regina Holley in urging the commission to try to keep three traditionally black seats on the board. She is black and represents District 2, where most of the residents are white.

Since 1985, black board members have represented Districts 1, 3 and 8. Sharene Shealey represents District 1; Thomas Sumpter, District 3; and Mark Brentley Sr., District 8.

Shealey did not attend the meeting but said previously that she favored keeping the three traditionally black seats.

“It would change the racial balance of the board,” she said, if the number of traditionally black seats was reduced to two.

Between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of black residents has declined from 56 percent to 49 percent in District 1, from 60 percent to 51 percent in District 3 and from 59 percent to 55 percent in District 8, according to unofficial figures from Burgess' office. None of the districts has a majority of black residents old enough to vote.

“I just don't like the assumption because you're of a certain race, you're going to vote this way,” Sumpter said, citing Holley's election.

At the start of the meeting, the commission voted unanimously to count residents who identified themselves as being partly black, as being black for the purposes of redrawing the new borders. In 2010, voters could identify themselves as being one or a combination of six races, an option that was not available in 2000.

Commission co-chairman Wayne Gerhold said the panel plans on finishing the new map by the end of November.

Shealey, Sumpter, Theresa Colaizzi, Jean Fink and Floyd “Skip” McCrea are up for re-election next year.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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