An active school volunteer for years, Elizabeth Redenbaugh was sworn in as a member of North Carolina’s New Hanover County school board in December 2008. A few months after she was elected, the school board began contemplating a redistricting plan that appeared likely to result in increased socioeconomic and racial segregation in Wilmington middle schools. Supporters of the measure argued that the proposed changes were intended to preserve neighborhood schools, safety, community, and the quality of education throughout the county. Others who supported the measure asserted that desegregation via busing simply had not worked.
The local paper ran a strongly worded op-ed by Redenbaugh in which she challenged the ideas put forth by proponents of the plan. “I cannot vote in favor of any redistricting plan where the overwhelming majority of students at any given school qualify for free or reduced lunch.” She pointed out that the proposed “neighborhood schools” map would concentrate poor and, overwhelmingly, black children in several schools, setting them up for failure, and that she “could not in good conscience send any child from any background to a school” that data suggested was likely to fail. “I believe each and every one of our schools can be a high-achieving school,” she wrote. “Is redistricting based upon socioeconomic status the panacea? No, but it is a good start.”
Wilmington parents were bitterly divided over the plan. In early 2010, after a contentious community debate, the school board voted 4-3 to approve the new map. Redenbaugh was the only Republican and the only white member of the school board to vote against the plan. In the ensuing weeks, parents bombarded the school board with complaints about last-minute provisions that had not been publicly debated. The school board reopened discussions over a slightly revised middle school map, but after a second debate no less heated than the first, the board approved the revised map by the same 4-3 margin as it had approved the original plan. Once again, Elizabeth Redenbaugh was the only Republican and the only white school board member to dissent.
In October 2010, the state of North Carolina asked New Hanover County to sign an affidavit certifying that it was not intentionally segregating county schools based on race or socioeconomic status. Redenbaugh opposed the school board’s decision to certify the affidavit. The board approved the certification anyway, saying that if indeed segregation happened, it was unintentional. Elizabeth Redenbaugh will stand for re-election to the New Hanover County school board in 2012.