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Latino voters gain more clout in Pasadena school board races

February 17, 2013 |  2:40 pm

For more than a decade, the majority of students attending Pasadena public schools have come from lower-income Latino families in northwest Pasadena.

But when it came to choosing who runs the schools, those most reliant on public education were heavily outnumbered at the polls.

Now, new voter districts debuting in the March 5 school board elections — including a northwest Pasadena district where 56% of residents are Latino — have made the working-class Latino vote an emerging force at the ballot box.

Nowhere is the change more pronounced than in school board District 3, which stretches from the 210 Freeway to Woodbury Road along the eastern edge of the Arroyo Seco, to Lake Avenue on the north and narrowing to Fair Oaks Avenue at its southern terminus.

District 3 is home to more public school students than any other school board district. It also has the highest percentage of Latinos of any district, said Ken Chawkins, who last year headed a volunteer task force that drew new district boundaries according to income, educational attainment and ethnicity.

“Whether they elect a Latino or not, that community is now speaking for itself,” he said.

Four school board candidates -- two Latinos and two African Americans -- are running to represent the district's roughly 29,000 residents. Though more than half of the residents are Latino, African Americans represent a larger share of the district's 13,802 registered voters.

District 3 candidate Guillermo Arce, a social services administrator and public school parent critical of the district's special-education services, said the contest should not center on ethnic identity. But Arce also said the defeat of Latino candidates would “be the biggest disenfranchisement of the Hispanic community in Pasadena.”

The departure in May of outgoing school board member Ramon Miramontes could leave the board without a Latino member, but Latino hopefuls are competing in three of the four March 5 board races.

District 3 candidate Tyron Hampton, a graduate of northwest Pasadena schools who is black, said race is a topic candidates “need to keep as far away from as possible” or risk alienating voters.

All District 3 candidates say northwest Pasadena needs an advocate able to engage parents whose financial struggles leave them without the time or resources to get involved in school affairs.

The need for greater parent involvement exists in both Latino and African American families, said Randy Ertll, executive director of the education-focused nonprofit El Centro de Acción Social.

“Candidates [in District 3] will have to transcend their own ethnicity to win,” Ertll said.

Pixie Boyden, a District 3 resident who also served on the districting task force, said she hoped the shift from at-large races to districts would make face-to-face contact between candidates and voters a better campaign strategy than blanketing homes with political mailers.

District 3 candidate Ruben Hueso, a Los Angeles elementary school teacher and public school parent, had raised $6,175 as of Jan. 19, the last required reporting date. Hampton, Arce and foster parent Deidre Duncan did not report raising funds.

“Until now, this was the forgotten district,” Hueso said. “I'm getting comments [from residents] that no other candidate has ever knocked on their door — whether it's a mayoral race, City Council or school board. People are saying they've never been approached.”

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-- Joe Piasecki

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