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With a wave of a hand: How Rock Hill disappeared from Forge redistricting

As I sat typing furiously away during the School Board work session just prior to the announcement of the revised Options A and B, a friend texted me inquiring about her neighborhood. I told her not to worry, that practically all of Rock Hill was being removed from consideration, except for the tiny neighborhoods of Arbor Glen and Marshall Estates in APU 163. "How did that happen?" she responded. Good question.

I have had interactions with many Rock Hill residents during the Forge redistricting issue. Some are fans of Patricia Healy and some are not. I suppose that is natural when you have been serving your community for 17 years, you can't please everyone over such a long period of time. Ms. Healy is a lawyer and it comes across in her manner of speech, knowledgeable but guarded about what she is willing to reveal.

I have dealt with Ms. Healy in the past, unsurprisingly during a redistricting issue at Margaret Brent Elementary, the school all three of my children attended. I remember a meeting at MBES with Ms. Healy and Cord Sterling, the Rock Hill Board of Supervisors Rep at the time. He was furious, so red faced and enraged as he talked to the audience of moms. Ms. Healy's approach was much more level-headed, a voice of reason in an anxious room.

When I attended the Rock Hill town hall this February, it quickly became clear that Ms. Healy hadn't changed. It's not easy to get her riled, although the emotionally charged meeting took a toll. But she heard her community loud and clear and it showed at the School Board work sessions. She was relentlessly determined to keep Rock Hill schools out of consideration. Again and again, she referenced the 400 students the superintendent recommended be moved and would not support any options that moved more than that number of students, particularly if a Rock Hill neighborhood was in the mix.

Obviously, Rock Hill neighborhoods didn't escape consideration initially, there were Rock Hill APU's in 4 of the original 7 options. So what happened, how did Rock Hill emerge almost completely unscathed? Considering this redistricting issue was so long and drawn out(at least, it must have seemed that way to the SB), it happened in the blink of an eye, literally with the wave of a hand.

Let's revisit the evening of March 22nd, the day that the SB was to submit their narrowed down list of options to the county at the SB meeting. The work session started at 5PM that day, in a cramped room on the Alvin Bandy York campus. The SB knew that the regular meeting was scheduled at 7PM and that they would need to confront the public very shortly with some decisions made. But progress eliminating options was slow. Initially, everyone agreed to get rid of Option 1 due it's extreme size and Option 5, due to it's duplicate status but after that, movement stalled.

It became clear that the process wasn't working so the SB went about making changes or "tweaks", as Chairwoman Hazard called them, to the remaining options. With each tweak, a new option was created with a total of 18 options at final count (although a few of those options had been brought to Assistant Superintendent Scott Horan prior to the meeting for potential discussion.) While the SB headed to the 7pm public meeting to dispense with some business, Mr. Horan crunched the numbers for these additional options. The SB then put a hold on the public meeting and went back to the work session to hash out the new options while the public waited in limbo.

At this point, the SB had to be feeling some pressure, there were a LOT of people waiting for them in the School Board chambers wanting answers. They only looked at capacity percentages of the three high schools in these additional options for elimination purposes. They started with numbers that were just too high for NSHS in year 20-21 and knocked out all of those options. They then did the same for the other schools, finally leaving only options 13 and 16, the options that became A and B.

Then, it happened. Jamie Decatur, Griffths-Widewater SB Rep started to list the remaining original options for review, since none had previously been eliminated. "Oh, no, no, no" said Ms. Healy, "We aren't worried about those anymore, just these two," waving her hand as if to shoo a pesky fly from her plate of barbecue. If anyone was expecting an argument, none was had. The room just sat in silence for a moment as everyone considered the prospect. Maybe they were tired of hashing and rehashing the options or maybe they were feeling pressure to get back to the meeting. Maybe they thought, after months of research, they just weren't going to get any better options than these two. And maybe they were simply ready to move on and who can blame them? Hence, Options A and B were adopted and all others left by the wayside.

In an instant, like telephone booths, milkmen and the dinosaurs, POOF, Rock Hill district disappeared literally with a wave of a hand. It's doubtful that anyone planned it that way but I'm guessing Ms. Healy, a 17 year veteran of this process, knew an opportunity when she saw it and grabbed it. Some might say that protecting your own "piece of the pie" isn't the right approach, that focusing only on capacity percentages did the county a disservice. Some might say she did the job her constituents elected her to do. But no matter what you say about Ms. Healy, all I have to say is, if I ever need a lawyer, I'm hiring her.