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Orlando Sentinel

Give Hispanics Voice

September 24, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Our position: Redistricting plans for the city of Orlando and the School Board fall short.

In Orlando city limits, Hispanics comprise more than 17 percent of the population. Yet, on the Orlando City Commission, there is no one with a full grasp of the cultural, social and economic challenges that Hispanic people face.

In Orange County public schools, more than one-fifth of the students are Hispanic. But there is no Hispanic on the seven-member School Board, which establishes policy and sets budget priorities. A Hispanic School Board member is badly needed to help the district craft more effective policies for teaching students who have limited English and to address dropout problems affecting Hispanic students.

Hispanics are a vital part of this vibrant community. They live here. They work here. They pay their taxes here. They vote here. Yet the Orange County Commission is the only major governmental body with a representative who has Hispanic roots.

The Hispanic community deserves to have more say in how this community runs. Its ability to be heard clearly, and possibly elect more officials, is controlled by the City Commission and the School Board. Those bodies approve the district lines that are redrawn every 10 years based on the latest Census figures. Changing the district lines does not guarantee that a Hispanic would be elected. But it ensures that anyone seeking office in those districts would have to take seriously the concerns of Hispanic voters.

The leading plans that have been presented for approval don't go far enough. Indeed the Orlando City Commission district map, which is up for final approval today, represents a step backward. On that map in east Orlando's District 2, where there is the largest concentration of Hispanic residents, the proposed new boundaries reduce the district's Hispanic population from 40 percent to 38 percent.

The leadership of the steering committee that drafted the boundaries insists that reducing the concentration of Hispanic residents, many of them apartment dwellers, won't hurt. But the 2000 presidential election proved that every percent counts.

The school-district boundary proposals were only slightly better. On the existing map, District 2, in east Orange, has the largest Hispanic population, 30 percent. The best-case scenario presented on three redistricting proposals would create a district that is 34 percent Hispanic.

With 168,000 Hispanic residents in Orange County, there certainly should be a way to create a district where at least 40 percent of the people are Hispanic. Redistricting maps should not be incumbent protection acts.

None of the school district plans, nor the Orlando City Commission boundaries, should be approved. Fairness demands giving Hispanic voters a strong voice. Leaving a large segment of the population underrepresented is a disservice to the entire community. The lack of representation breeds frustration and makes it more difficult to address critical issues in the community.

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