Worcester agrees to change how it elects its school council

Worcester is changing the way it elects its school board. This is after a lawsuit was filed alleging that the current system violates federal law.

Worcester has diversified in recent years, but its school board is all-white. Earlier this year, the local NAACP branch and other plaintiffs sued the city.

They argued that the way Worcester chooses its school board members has diluted the voting power of communities of color.

Oren Sellstrom, who is the litigation director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, filed the suit.

“We allege that one of the main reasons for this lack of diversity on the school board was the widespread electoral system by which school board members are elected,” he said.

This means that voters can vote for all seats, regardless of where they live.

Worcester City Council has agreed to move towards more district-based seats, two of which will be predominantly people of colour. The change would come into effect next year.

The Worcester branch of the NAACP was one of the plaintiffs.

Fred Taylor, who leads the organization, said he was pleased with the city council’s decision, but its impact will only go so far.

“I’m not blind to thinking that because we’ve changed districts or we have two majority-minority districts that will automatically get to where we have people of color represented on the school board. But what that does is that it increases the likelihood,” Taylor said.

A judge still has to sign the agreement and the city council has to hear public comments on three different plans that have varying numbers of seats based on districts. He will then choose one.

The changes would come into effect for the 2022 election.

This story is a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New England Public Media on October 18, 2021.