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New Nine-Member Dade Board Reflects Diversity

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In the first balloting under a new system for electing school board members in Dade County, Fla., voters last week chose a mix of veterans and newcomers to govern the fast-growing district.

The new nine-member board, elected for the first time from individual wards rather than the county as a whole, is far more diverse than the seven-member panel it is replacing. ("In Dade, Ditching At-Large Voting Means New Faces," Oct. 9, 1996.)

Republicans, who were entirely absent from the outgoing board, now lay claim to four seats. While only one Hispanic served on the old board, the incoming board boasts four, in a district in which more than 50 percent of the students are classified as Hispanic.

The new board will also include two African-Americans, one more than the prior panel. Black students constitute slightly more than a third of the 333,000-student district, the nation's fourth-largest, which includes Miami.

Three seats on the board were decided earlier this fall, one in a September primary and the others in primary runoffs in October. Those seats were filled by incumbent Frederica Wilson and newcomers Perla Tabares Hantman and Renier Diaz de la Portilla.

Elected last week were veteran Democrats G. Holmes Braddock, Betsy Kaplan, and Michael Krop; Solomon Stinson, a black Democrat and retired administrator in the district; and newcomers Demetrio Perez and Manty Sabates Morse.

The changed format for selecting board members arose from a 1991 lawsuit. Brought under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Hispanics and blacks, the suit claimed that the at-large system of representation diluted their vote and made it too hard to elect members of racial and ethnic minorities to the board.

For the most part, blacks and Hispanics elected to the board in the past had first been appointed to fill vacancies.

A priority for the new board will be the selection of a new superintendent to replace Octavio J. Visiedo, who stepped down last spring after more than five years in the job.


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