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Dividing a school district: Hart ponders the how-to

Drawing the lines becomes an issue in bid to avoid Voting Rights Act lawsuit

Posted: July 17, 2014 5:38 p.m.
Updated: July 17, 2014 5:38 p.m.

Instead of waiting for a law firm to draw a line in the sand, members of the Hart district governing board voted this week to draw some lines of their own and move forward with splitting the Santa Clarita Valley’s largest school district into separate voting districts.

Wednesday night’s vote authorized the move toward district elections, whereby voters will be divided within the William S. Hart Union High School District and vote for a representative based on the area in which they live.

“We are working with our law firm, Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, on the process to determine timing, sequence and next steps,” district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said Thursday.

While the next steps in moving toward district-based elections are not yet finalized, a major one will be determining how to carve voting districts out of the Hart district’s boundaries, which span the Santa Clarita Valley.

“It is going to be interesting to see how those areas develop because there are going to be problems with every plan,” board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine said Thursday.

As it stands, board members in the Hart district are elected at-large, meaning voters can cast ballots for each seat up for election in a given year.

Each of the voting districts will need to have roughly the same population and make sense from a geographic standpoint, said Milton E. Foster III, of the firm Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP, during a presentation to the board Wednesday on the California Voting Rights Act.

Three agencies in the Santa Clarita Valley — the city of Santa Clarita, Santa Clarita Community College District and Sulphur Springs School District — have recently settled lawsuits alleging their at-large election systems violated the California Voting Rights Act by preventing Latino voters from electing candidates of their choice.

“The purpose, obviously, is to increase the voting power of the voting blocs that are affected and so, ideally, the idea is to create districts where the voting power of the particular voting group is increased,” Foster said Wednesday.

But, he added, “There are limitations, and you can’t have extremely weird or skewed districts in trying to accomplish that goal.”

Of the three agencies that recently settled Voting Rights Act lawsuits, only Sulphur Springs opted to move to by-district voting.

Sulphur Springs board President Kerry Clegg said Thursday the district is waiting for a report “with some potential options for our school district to be carved up into trustee districts.”
Clegg said the board will then review those options and decide which would work best for the district.

“Then we would adopt those districts and then the next election in 2015 would be by trustee areas,” he said.
Mercado-Fortine was the only Hart board member to vote against moving to districts Wednesday night, though board President Steve Sturgeon remarked that her “no” vote “represents all of our attitudes toward this process.”

“I feel very strongly that, as a Latina, I was not excluded and there was no racial polarization,” she said. “And I truly believe that the best way to govern is to represent all of your constituents — everyone from one end of your school district to the other end of your school district.”
On Twitter @LukeMMoney




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