PRLDEF Urges Osceola School Board to Immediately Change its Unconstitutional Voting System

February 1, 2008
CONTACT: John Garcia, PRLDEF, (212) 739-7513

PRLDEF is urging the Osceola School Board to listen to the voters and immediately create a single-member district system. During last Tuesday’s election, 62 percent of Osceola County voted in favor of changing the voting system from an at-large system to a single-member district system.

The school board has not announced how – or when – it would implement the plan. PRLDEF has repeatedly informed the school board that the Voting Rights Act (VRA) precludes at-large systems that dilute the votes of minority voters in the governance of the school district. PRLDEF now stands ready to act and ensure that Osceola County voters have the opportunity to participate in a fair election.

“The voters decided that the new system would encourage greater civic participation and would reflect fairness for all citizens,” said Cesar Perales, President and General Counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “We urge the school board to listen to the voters and to implement the change as quickly as possible.”

Last year, in a suit brought by the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), the court ordered the county to change a similar districting scheme for the county commission, claiming it was in violation of the VRA. The county changed the system and recently a Hispanic was elected to the county commission.

After parents and civic activists in Osceola County contacted PRLDEF to investigate the failure of the school board to change it’s method of election last July, PRLDEF informed the school board that the legal arguments used in the case brought by the DOJ applied to the makeup of the school board. The school board voted last month to put the issue on the ballot.

More than 49 percent of the students in the Osceola School District are Hispanic, yet a Hispanic has never been elected to the board. Hispanic parents and advocates feel that educational priorities, a sensitive administration and equitable allocation of resources are best attained through accountability and fair representation on the School Board and in the district office. Inclusive advocacy and representation on the School Board is essential to bridging any of these gaps.

The concerns of Latino parents and students are underscored further by the troubling news in the Orlando Sentinel (June 30, 2007) article “Grades Take a Nose Dive” which cites the precipitous drop in Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) academic achievement levels at Poinciana High School, where over 58% of students are Hispanic; this was the only traditional high school in the county to have done so poorly.

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