PUSD elections attract few Latino candidates four years after change

Four years ago, Pasadena school officials moved away from at-large elections and created seven separate districts as a way to encourage more minority representation in the predominately Latino school district.

But so far, the new voting districts have not produced the intended change. 

In next Tuesday’s election, seven people are running for four seats, but no Latino candidates are running, and only one candidate is African American.

“We have yet to see the results that we have hoped for,” said District 5 incumbent Board of Education member Elizabeth Pomeroy, who is facing Muir instructor Matthew Baron in Tuesday’s election.

“We still have a representative of those neighborhoods on the board, but we have not have yet reached the hoped for results from dividing into sub-districts,” Pomeroy said. “We just have to hope for results to reflect the demographics of our city. I hope we can get there.”

The district includes Pasadena, Altadena, Sierra Madre and some unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County. Currently, there are about 17,007 students in PUSD. And about 61 percent of the student population is Latino. Despite the near super-majority of Latino students, the district only has one Latino board member — Lawrence Torres, who represents largely white Sierra Madre.

The board carved up the school district into seven sub-districts in 2012, and switched from at-large school board elections, following the approval of Measure A. The vote came about as a way sidestep possible lawsuits that could emerge from the California Voting Rights Act of 2002, which gives voters the right to challenge at-large systems that are characterized by “racially polarized” voting patterns and prohibits use of at-large election methods that impair the election of minorities. 

In the 2013 election, the board’s two African-American board members, Renatta Cooper and Tyron Hampton, stepped down along with Ramon Miramontes, the board’s only Latino member.

But even after Hampton vacated his District 3 seat to successfully run for the City Council, the district disappointed critics when the members failed to appoint a Latino to the seat. District 3 represents Northwest Pasadena, a majority minority district which includes John Muir High School, Washington Middle School and Cleveland and Washington elementary schools.

Board members chose Los Angeles Community College Dean of Adult Education Adrienne Mullen — who is white — over two minority applicants, Michelle Richardson-Bailey and Reuben Hueso.

Richardson-Bailey, who came in second place behind Mullen for that seat after being interviewed by the district, said the district made a big mistake by failing to appoint a minority.

“If you are truly concerned about the board you want as many diverse voices as possible,” said Richardson-Bailey. “Minorities should have a say in their own destiny, even when someone has the opportunity and the experience. It’s interesting to me that people think I am saying vote for me because I am black. That is not my intent. They had an opportunity to bring diversity into the district and they failed to do it.”

Richardson-Bailey — a 14-year school district employee — is the only African American running in this year’s school board election. She is running against Mullens

Mullens told the Weekly she could not gauge the effectiveness of PUSD’s sub-districts.

“It’s a hard question. I was not part of that effort, but it is a big commitment to step up and run,” Mullens said.

“My time on the board has been very positive,” she continued. “We have moved the needle on partnerships between Pasadena City College (PCC) and PUSD. PCC is now offering 13 college classes on our campuses, and we have worked closely on our adult education pathways with PCC. Both of these have had positive results.”

In Altadena’s District 1, incumbent Board member Kim Kenne is up against former English teacher Rita Miller.
Neither Miller nor Kenne returned requests for comment regarding this story. This district is in central Pasadena and includes Rose City High School, McKinley, Marshall Fundamental, Jefferson Elementary and Hamilton Elementary.

Incumbent

Board member Scott Phelps, who represents District 7, is running unopposed.