Sunday, November 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Pennsbury defeats civic group's plan for 9 voting regions

The union-backed group sought to oust opponents on the school board, including Vice President Simon Campbell, according to documents accidentally submitted to a Bucks County judge.

Pennsbury defeats civic group's plan for 9 voting regions

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Pennsbury School Board Vice President Simon Campbell applauded the ruling.

Pennsbury School District’s plan to rebalance its three voting regions is preferable to a civic group’s proposal to form nine regions, a Bucks County judge has ruled.

The administration’s and school board’s plan “is free from any taint of arbitrariness or discrimination,” Judge Susan Devlin Scott wrote in her decision, dated Nov. 21. The district received the order Tuesday.

The district’s plan “is less disruptive to the overall representational scheme because it moves just three precincts out of the 35 precincts … to new regions,” Scott ruled. Under the civic group’s plan, they admitted that “at least three of the nine current Board members would be unseated.”

The civic group’s plan attracted attention when it was filed with the court in June, because it accidentally included documents revealing that it was targeting school board members.

An internal memo and a letter to the state association of teachers' unions zeroed in on board Vice President Simon Campbell, a staunch union critic.

Provided "the opportunity to cut off the head of the snake by denying Campbell a seat to run for, why not go for the kill?" the memo said.

"Campbell and another member of his majority, Kathleen Zawacki . . . would find they have no seat to run for re-election" under the group's plan to divide the district into nine regions, the letter said.

The memo and letter were written by former teachers’ union president John McDonnell, the lead plaintiff in the case brought by the Concerned Residents of Pennsbury (CROP). The teachers have been working under the terms of an expired contract for more than two years.

The internal documents were discussed during the August hearing about the proposals, but   Scott did not refer to them in her ruling.

The district needs to adjust its voting regions to meet the requirement of “one person, one vote.” Both plans would meet that requirement, Scott wrote, but the district’s plan “maintains the integrity of the election boundaries … as well as the district’s traditional three region alignment.”

A three-region plan “is better equipped to absorb shifts in population, which ensures stability in the future,” the judge wrote.

Campbell applauded the ruling and called on union members who backed CROP’s plan to pay for the district’s legal fees. The challenge cost Pennsbury more than $60,000, district lawyer Jeffrey Sultanik said.   

The  revised region boundaries will take effect for the spring primaries, Sultanik said.

CROP’s lawyer, David Truelove, said he was not surprised by the ruling, based on Scott's comments during the hearng. He did not know whether CROP members will want to appeal, since they had not read the ruling.     

About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at cpalmer@phillynews.com, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at bfinley@phillynews.com, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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