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Hart district wants to even the odds

Ballots would be cast in even-numbered years to coincide with statewide elections

Posted: February 7, 2013 6:09 p.m.
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:09 p.m.

If the county OKs it, elections for the Santa Clarita Valley’s junior high and high school district will shift from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years.

Proponents of the move say it would save the William S. Hart Union High School District some money — $100,000 to $180,000, in fact — because its balloting will coincide with general statewide elections.

Higher voter turnout is expected to be one result of the change, supporters say. In the last Hart district election, held in November 2011, 128,154 voters were asked to choose two people from a total of three candidates. The top vote-getter collected just 7,530 votes.

Voter turnout during statewide races tends to be higher than in regional races.

Another effect of the change would be extending the current board’s terms. If the move is approved by the county, the next district elections would be November 2014 rather than November 2013.

The board’s vote Wednesday night was 4-1 in favor of the change, with member Joe Messina casting the dissenting ballot.

The changes cannot take effect unless they are approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors are expected to take up the matter within the next 60 days, according to a Hart district staff report.
Board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine said Thursday she is not entirely certain that supervisors will support the move.

“In the past when this type of issue has been raised, not all of (the supervisors) have been favorable to the idea,” Mercado-Fortine said. “We’re not a shoo-in, but it will be interesting to see what does happen.”

Messina said Thursday he thinks the change will inject unnecessary partisanship into the school board race.

“People who vote in general elections, they tend to vote down the line: Republican or Democrat,” Messina said.

Messina, who is board president, also said he thinks people who turn out to special school board elections are more likely to cast an informed ballot. The district should expend more effort to boost turnout, he said.

“I would get people coming up to me all the time asking, ‘Was that election last month? Did that election just happen?’” Messina said. “We need to look at ways to get the message out.”

Both Messina and Mercado-Fortine said the decision was made with recent lawsuits about minority representation in mind.

Palmdale faces such a lawsuit over allegations it has diluted its minority voice by holding at-large, rather than district-by-district, City Council elections.

Breaking the Hart district into separate representative-elected subdistricts would not necessarily enhance the minority vote because the city’s minority population is spread out, Mercado-Fortine said. So the best bet is to try to get as many people to the polls as possible.

“We may not be able to guarantee that everyone will vote, but we at least can attempt to increase voter populations by having elections in even years,” she said.

Messina said area-specific representation could also lead some board members to ignore other parts of the district.

“I could be fighting for money for Saugus High or Canyon High but might not be interested, for all intents and purposes, in Hart High because I wouldn’t be representing it,” Messina said of the sub-district model.

“Right now, everybody and every school gets equal play and equal time from board members.”
On Twitter @LukeMMoney




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