Northeastern schools: Fast-growing Conewago prompts redistricting

Fall foliage is in near full color along the Conewago Creek where Sheep Bridge, built in 1889, crosses in Conewago Township. Thursday October 20, 2016.John A. Pavoncello photo

A population boom in Conewago Township means the Northeastern school board will re-define its electoral regions — in a move said to be unusual for a school district.

Redistricting itself is not out of the ordinary, said business manager Brian Geller, but the formalities are buried in the school code, so going through the process of taking a petition to the judge for approval is atypical.

Eric Levis, press secretary for the state Department of Education, said he did not know what was typical for the process, but according to law any change in regional representation must be submitted to the courts by the board or by a petition of the resident electors.

More:York City Council passes resolution in support of citizens' redistricting commission

York County Common Pleas Judge Richard Renn, who signed a court order accepting the petition, "stated this is the first time he had seen that," Geller said.

"I don't know that other schools knew to do that," he said, noting that although it's required by law, there's not too many cases of court petitions taking place.

"We're taking a proactive step," he said, to see this through.

No longer farmland: The need to redistrict was driven by the 2010 federal census, which shows Conewago Township's population has grown significantly since Northeastern's regions were formed in 1967.

The district was formed in 1955 and split into three regions 12 years later.

The school board reported at a Tuesday, Sept. 4, work session that the court approved its petition for redistricting — and the result will be a more uniformly distributed population across three regions.

As it stands now, Region 1 represents 50 percent of the population in the district, and the other two represent 29 percent and 21 percent. But after redistricting, the split will be 34.1 percent, 33.8 percent and 32.1 percent.

The reason for the disparity is that 4,505 of Conewago Township's population of 7,510 is in the first region, along with another highly populated township, East Manchester — which has 7,264.

More:York City Latino population is growing, but government representation remains absent

That gives Region 1 a population total of 11,769 — more than the 11,602 of the other two regions combined. 

"The Conewago Township area has massively expanded with people moving into that area," said board treasurer Vanessa Snell.

The last time redistricting was done, the boroughs were much more populated and the surrounding areas mostly farmland, but over time building and home developments caused a shift, she said.

To remain fair, the board had two options — redraw the regions to create more equality, or go with "at-large" elections, meaning nine board members could be selected from anywhere in the district based on who gets the highest vote.  

Room for growth: They went with the former.

Geller and the district's solicitor worked closely with municipalities to look at the numbers and come up with several options, one of which they eventually submitted for approval.

"So ideally, you would have regions set up with a population of 33 percent, 33 percent, 34 percent, let's say, and we got it pretty close to that," Geller said.

Northeastern School District submitted a petition to the York County Court of Common Pleas to re-draw regional lines in the district for more equal representation. The school board reported the petition was approved at its Sept. 4 work session, and the following map shows new regions for 2018.

The next opportunity to examine populations will come in 2020, when a new census is released, but the board tried to plan ahead by allowing room for more growth, especially in Conewago Township. 

In the newly approved electoral distribution, Region 3 now represents all of the township — at 32.1 percent, the smallest slice between the three.

Region 2 now represents Manchester and Mount Wolf boroughs, and part of Newberry Township, while Region 1 represents East Manchester Township and York Haven.

"It reshuffled the deck," Geller said.