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Decision Theater serves as redistricting resource


December 19, 2006

The Arizona School District Redistricting Commission is working on a research assignment, and the ASU Decision Theater is one of its key resources.

The commission was created to review school districts that are not “unified,” meaning they don't offer instruction from preschool through grade 12. Of these non-unified districts, 108 are elementary school districts and 15 are union high school districts. The commission will examine those common school districts and consider combining them into new unified districts to, in part, provide more integrated instruction and to potentially increase efficiencies. Their recommendation is due to the governor by this time next year.

Rick Shangraw, executive director of the Decision Theater, says the Decision Theater's role in this effort epitomizes what the theater is about, providing tools for informed analysis as part of the decision process.

“With the strong support and involvement of Seidman Institute (within ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business), our partner in this effort, we've been able to collect a lot of data on each of the school districts, put that data into a model allowing commissioners to visualize the information, and then run ‘what if' scenarios for them,” Shangraw says.

Deirdre Hahn, associate director of the Decision Theater, says the first order of business was to gather the statewide data on non-unified school districts needed by the commissioners to begin exploring and proposing redistricting alternatives. Nettie Klingler, a senior research scientist at the W.P. Carey School of Business Seidman Institute, and Ron Russell, a senior geographic information systems analyst at the Decision Theater, are core ASU project team members who've been involved every step of the way.

“We've created a special tool called ART – the Arizona Redistricting Tool – to visually illustrate county level data for each of the non-unified school districts,” Hahn says.

ART stores the geographic location of district boundaries, along with data such as average daily attendance, teacher salary, operational expenses, student demographics and student-teacher ratio. The commissioners are able to visually see what the districts look like through boundaries reflected on maps and data reflected on spreadsheets.

“If a commissioner asks what happens if we propose combining non-unified district A with non-unified district B into unified district C, we can use ART to create a new map showing the new district configuration and provide spreadsheets reflecting the new combined data,” Hahn says. “The goal is for commissioners to see the impact of their potential decision across multiple variables and on maps.”

The Decision Theater also has conducted three commission public meetings where commissioners have explored redistricting possibilities and engaged with the community.

Commission chairman Marty Shultz says he's very appreciative of the Decision Theater's contributions.

“The Decision Theater tools have helped us organize a very complex geographical, educational, and public policy issue in a way that allows the commission to display unification plans for others to see,” Shultz says. “This helps people to fully understand the impact of this important issue.”

John Skinner, john.skinner@asu.edu
(480) 727-9229