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District school board candidates face tough terms

Nov. 3 election results more important than ever with schools facing unprecedented budget cuts

Posted: August 7, 2009 9:51 p.m.
Updated: August 8, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The Nov. 3 school board elections come at a crucial time for education as local school districts grapple with millions of dollars in funding reductions from the state, an official said Friday as filing for the races closed.

That means finding the best board members who can oversee and guide public school districts as class sizes increase and pay cuts become a reality.

“What (school trustees) need is the composure to deal with these matters effectively with stability and calm,” said Christopher Maricle, governance consultant for the California School Boards Association.

“What the community really needs is confidence that the district can figure out how to operate. The board meeting is the public window through which the community sees the district.”

Statewide, $12.5 billion for schools has been slashed, according to the California School Boards Association.

Those reductions to education funding have already been felt locally.

School districts like Newhall, Saugus Union and Sulphur Springs have increased class sizes in the upcoming school year.

College of the Canyons has reduced its fall schedule of classes by 12 percent to deal with an $11 million budget reduction.

Transportation funding for local elementary school districts has been hit, meaning the reduction or complete elimination of school bus service for some families.

Recently, the 700 classified employees at the William S. Hart Union High School District agreed to furlough days and a health-benefit cap to prevent any classified layoffs.

“I know in small communities, it’s deeply painful,” Maricle said.

With every tough decision that is made comes a duty for trustees to make sure they communicate the struggles facing local school districts.

“I think if the board doesn’t articulate the pain, then they’ll be perceived as not being compassionate,” he said.

It’s common to see candidates with a background in the legal, educational and finance fields run for office.

“How they share their skills can make or break a board,” Maricle said. “If they use their skill set to help the full board have a sufficient understanding that the work of the staff is appropriate and reasonable, that’s helpful.”

Filing for to run for school board on Nov. 3 closed Friday, except in cases in which an incumbent does not seek reelection. In those instances, the filing deadline is extended to Wednesday.

Both the William S. Hart Union High School District and Santa Clarita Community College District will see new faces on their boards, as long-term board members have decided to step down.

For the Hart district, incumbents Dennis King and Patricia Hanrion bowed out of the race, leaving Paul Strickland as the only incumbent seeking reelection.

Four newcomers are seeking election to the board. Bob Jensen and Suzan Solomon are Newhall School District board members; Joe Messina is a local businessman; Linda Valdes is a elementary school teacher.

College of the Canyons Trustee Ernie Tichenor will not seek a fourth term.

But Sulphur Springs and Saugus Union school districts are seeing all their incumbents run again.

While representing the local community and providing a school district guidance is key, a crisis in education funding that is likely to continue in the coming years means trustees have another duty to serve, Maricle said.

“My hope is that every district wants to do what’s best for its kids and every trustee wants that,” he said. “We also hope that they are far more willing to engage in a much larger debate.”

That debate involves how education is funded at the state level.

“We want their passion for local children to be equally as important as all the children in the state,” he said.



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