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Hart school board votes for districting

Posted: July 17, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 17, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Another Santa Clarita Valley school district plans to move to district-based elections after Hart district board members voted Wednesday night to move toward changing their election system.

That means voters will be divided among districts within the William S. Hart Union High School District and able to vote for a representative based on where they live.

Board members in the Hart district are currently elected at-large, meaning voters can cast ballots for every seat up for election in a given year.

One reason for the shift, according to officials, is because a district-based election system can provide a safe harbor against suits brought as a result of the California Voting Rights Act, such as those that were filed against the city of Santa Clarita, Santa Clarita Community College District and Sulphur Springs School District.

Those lawsuits claimed their at-large election systems violated the California Voting Rights Act by preventing Latino voters from electing candidates of their choice.

“The only safe harbor for a violation of California Voting Rights Act claim that is filed is transitioning to a by-trustee area election system,” said Milton E. Foster III with the firm Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost LLP who presented the board with information on the Voting Rights Act Wednesday.

But Hart board members raised several issues with the idea of districts.

“It isn’t the best way to govern because people will only be looking after their own district,” said board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine.

Other board members characterized the law as a money grab for attorneys.

“I think this is nothing but lawyers wanting to line their pockets,” said board member Joe Messina. “This is not going to help the voting populace at large.”

The board’s vote on the item was 4-1, with Mercado-Fortine voting against.

“The one represents all of our attitudes toward this process,” remarked board President Steve Sturgeon.

District spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said after the board vote that this has been a matter the district has been discussing over the past several years.

“The district is doing this on its own regard as far as the timing of initiating this process,” Pinsker said. “We had not received any letter, notification, lawsuit from any law firm prior to our decision to discuss this and bring it to the board for action.”
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