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Hart board candidates seek voters

Individuals running for a seat try various ways to educate and connect with local residents

Posted: October 18, 2009 10:42 p.m.
Updated: October 19, 2009 4:55 a.m.

As teachers at Canyon Springs Community School were getting ready to dismiss their students and mark the end of another school day, school board candidate Joe Messina and a group of volunteers were gearing up to find voters.

Positioned just outside the Canyon Country school, Messina and volunteer Corene Malloy - along with her two kids, 10-year-old Justin and 12-year-old Amber - held stacks of pamphlets promoting Messina's candidacy for the William S. Hart Union High School District board.

As each parent picked up his or her child, Messina was there to introduce himself and hand out his campaign literature.

Having a mom like Malloy at his side, along with her children, helps him connect with other parents, Messina said.

One of five candidates vying for three open seats on the Hart district board in November's election, Messina has come up with a rigorous campaign strategy.

"You have to hit every district, every school, everywhere in the Santa Clarita Valley," he said.

That's because Saugus Union, Sulphur Springs, Newhall and Castaic Union school districts all feed into the Hart district, which takes in all the public junior and senior high schools in the valley.

"These are the kids it's going to affect," he said.

Already, Messina has made the rounds to all the back-to-school nights in the Santa Clarita Valley.

With nearly 23,000 students, elections for the Hart district are among the most-watched races in the SCV.

Getting the vote out
Despite the community's family- and school-focused environment, turnout at the polls has been traditionally low.

The last Hart district election was in 2007, when board members Steve Sturgeon and Gloria Mercado-Fortine were re-elected.

Messina lost a bid for the board then.

Out of 83,413 registered voters in Santa Clarita in 2007, 2,946 ballots were cast. That's a 3.53 percent turnout, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder's Office.

The 2008 presidential election saw stronger local voter turnout. While there were no school district elections in 2008, out of 85,146 registered voters in Santa Clarita, 75,400 ballots were cast for a 88.55 percent turnout, according to the county registrar.

Hey, there's an election
Low turnout in school board elections often means candidates start by simply informing residents of the Nov. 3 election
"I start with bringing awareness of the election," said Linda Valdes, a Rio Vista Elementary School teacher running for Hart board.

For many candidates, that means knocking on doors, putting up signs throughout the community and calling voters for support.

"I try to tell people as sincerely and passionately as I can about the importance of public education and the future of our valley," said Bob Jensen, a Newhall School District board member and certified public accountant who is also running for Hart board.

For Messina, it comes down to educating people about the election and "letting them feel that they really have a voice," he said.

To get voters engaged and interested in the election, Suzan Solomon, Newhall School District board member who's also running for Hart, said she's been promoting the Nov. 3 election since January.

"You have to talk it up very early on," she said. "You have to connect people to the election and how it impacts them."

Standing out
The election has brought a mix of candidates who will appear on the ballot, ranging from current school board members to first-time candidates.

Board members Dennis King and Patricia Hanrion are not seeking re-election, leaving Paul Strickland as the only incumbent.

"I'm not assuming that just because I'm an incumbent, I'm going to win," he said, adding that data from past elections show that incumbents have an advantage in winning.

"My approach is as if I'm running for the first sense."

Still, Strickland, who is finishing his second term on the Hart board, sees an advantage to holding the incumbent title.

"My position is that you need someone of experience on that board," he said,


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