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Our View: Time to end Hart board’s ‘nonissue’

Posted: August 29, 2011 1:12 p.m.
Updated: August 29, 2011 1:12 p.m.

Enough already.

The conflict raised within the William S. Hart Union High School District about board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine’s employment is indeed — as she said roughly eight months ago — a “nonissue.”

In early December 2010, fellow board members Joe Messina and Steve Sturgeon raised concerns that Mercado-Fortine’s employment with Desert Sands, a charter school that contracts with the Antelope Valley Union High School District, creates a conflict of interest because the Hart district has a charter with Mission View Public School.

Messina and Sturgeon raised some issues that deserved to be examined and settled.

But what ensued was much drama, letter-writing and dragging of Mercado-Fortine’s name through the mud. She was denied her logical rotation as board president for the current year while the issue was sorted out.

An independent study commissioned by the Hart district board found economic connections between Mission View and Desert Sands.

Still, on July 20, the state Fair Political Practices Commission declared that Mercado-Fortine did not have a conflict of interest.

This should have settled the issue, at least until and unless the Attorney General – the last agency before which this issue has been brought – makes a ruling.

But instead, like the bad story line of a B-zombie movie, the issue keeps getting resurrected again and again.

Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Simi Valley, came out of left field July 28 with a letter to Supervising Deputy Attorney General Susan Lee asking if public school board members can be employed by a charter school that contracts with their district or a charter school with financial ties to one that contracts with their district.

It doesn’t name anyone in particular, but making the connections from the Hart board situation to Strickland’s letter isn’t exactly a stretch.

Strickland’s involvement is nothing short of perplexing, given his position as a state senator. The issue involves a local school district board, not a statewide initiative. (Tony Strickland is not related to Paul Strickland, the Hart district  board member.)

Strickland rescinded his letter, citing the FPPC’s decision, which was issued a full eight days before the date on his letter.
It’s time to bury the nonissue, to stop third-party name-calling and move on.

The board election is fast-approaching, and Mercado-Fortine doesn’t deserve further damage to her name by an accusation officially laid to rest by the state agency charged with assuring fair practices are observed in politics.

Here’s to clearing the slate, starting fresh and moving on for the good of our local high schools and not dwelling on petty politics. Mercado-Fortine deserves it, our schools deserve it, the students deserve it, and local voters deserve it.


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