Lee County voters are deciding this week whether or not to change the make-up of the school board. The change could make the school district, which has never had an African-American or Latino school board member, more diverse.
Currently, Lee County’s school board is made up of five countywide seats. Compared to other big school districts like Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange and Hillsborough, that’s a very small number of seats. Those counties have from seven up to nine seats on their boards.
Lee County is also different in that those boards also have all or mostly single member districts. This means voters are electing people in their neighborhoods and communities—not voting with people across the county. During this election there is an effort to change all of that.
There’s a ballot measure before Lee County voters that could switch the school board, which serves about 86,000 students, to seven members—five of which would become single member district seats.
Carletha Griffin, a local activist and former president of Lee County’s NAACP chapter, said it’s a good idea mostly because it would help people who are well-known in their communities get elected.
“If we had single member districts thank you will have instead of at large we would have people who really would have some direct contact with the people they are representing,” she said.
This could help diversify the board, too. Griffin said neighborhoods with mostly minorities currently don’t have a seat at the table because it’s hard for their community leaders to win districtwide seats. She said this means their needs probably aren’t being heard.
“I think that the reason they don’t say anything is because there is nobody that understands them,” Griffin said.
Lee County’s lobbyist Bob Cerra said his main concern about this change is that it could force members to focus on the needs of their respective districts instead of the county as a whole.