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    A Times Editorial

    Yes to Pinellas school districts

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 27, 2002

    Three years ago, Pinellas voters changed the way they elect county commissioners, deciding four should run in individual districts and three countywide. In one election cycle, the change brought fresh new membership to the courthouse club.

    Now voters have the chance to do the same for the School Board.

    On Nov. 5, county voters will be asked to approve a hybrid election system that combines single-member districts and at-large voting. Currently, five members of the board are required to live in certain districts, but all seven are elected countywide. Under the change, which would take place over the course of two elections, four would be elected solely by voters in their districts and three would be elected countywide.

    Single-member districts have long been sought as a way to help bring racial diversity to the elected governing board, and that objective is a worthy one. Incredibly, no African-American has ever been elected to the School Board, even though one of every five students in Pinellas schools is black. But single-member districts also offer another advantage in an urban county with 570,000 registered voters. They enable challengers to wage a more competitive race against well-financed incumbents, to connect more directly with voters in districts that are more manageable in size.

    The proof is the County Commission, once a white men's club, which now has three women and two African-Americans.

    Though county commissioners furiously fought the change to the way they were elected, the current School Board, to its credit, has not stood in the way. When state Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg, pushed for the referendum last year, they offered him their support.

    On Nov. 5, the customers will get their chance to order a better School Board election system. We recommend a YES vote.

    Ballot summary

    Shall the membership of the Pinellas County School Board be changed to consist of seven members, with four members elected from single-member districts rather than countywide, and three members elected from the county at large, all elected in nonpartisan elections held in conjunction with the first primary and general elections beginning with those elections held in the year 2004 and being fully implemented with those elections held in the year 2006?

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