BY DAYNA STRAEHLEY
STAFF WRITER
dstraehley@pe.com

Published: 23 June 2012 03:43 PM

Riverside Unified School District hasn’t elected many nonwhites to its board in recent decades despite its history as the first of its size to voluntary desegregate in 1965.

Some people expect the district’s change from at-large elections to election by trustee area to make it easier to elect someone who represents the concerns of Latinos.

Latinos, who tend to be younger than whites in the Inland area, are the largest minority group among potential voters, 29 percent of citizens older than 18, Deputy Superintendent Mike Fine said. Hispanic children were almost 58 percent of the district’s enrollment in 2011-12, according to the California Department of Education.

Only two blacks and two Latinos have been elected to the school board since 1976, Fine said.

The two African-Americans are Dr. C. Wesley Wright, elected in 1976 and re-elected in 1980 and 1984, and Dana Kruckenberg, elected in 1992 and re-elected in 1997 and 2001.

The two Hispanics are Robert Nava, elected in 1990 and re-elected in 1994, and Ofelia Valdez-Yeager, who was elected in 1992 and resigned in 1996.

At least seven black or Latino candidates ran unsuccessfully for board seats since 2001, according to a history Fine compiled.

“The real question for the California Voting Rights Act is there a minority candidate not successful because the minority vote was diluted in an at-large district,” Fine said.

Gilberto Esquivel, president of the League of United Latino American Citizens, said the at-large elections are precisely why so few minorities win elections.

“Every time we run somebody, they get rolled over,” Esquivel said. “It is obvious the at-large system has not worked for us.”

The act makes districts subject to costly lawsuits if they elect board members at large. The league, joined by the NAACP, hired a San Francisco civil rights attorney who district officials said had threatened to sue the district if it did not divide itself into trustee areas from which future board members would be elected.

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