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Our View: Hart and Newhall: It's down to three

Posted: October 10, 2009 8:30 p.m.
Updated: October 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Voters in the William S. Hart Union High School District face a tough choice Nov. 3. They must select from an enthusiastic group of five hard-running candidates to fill three open seats.

Paul Strickland is the lone incumbent. The other two seats are vacant.

We hope all five candidates will accept our admiration and gratitude for putting their time and money where there mouths are and participating in this grueling electoral process, often at the expense of their jobs and families.

On Nov. 3, it boils down to a choice of three. We hope the two who don't make the cut will continue to work for the benefit of the school district, because their hearts are certainly in the right place.

All five candidates say they are committed to building a new high school in Castaic. The question is, which three candidates are best qualified to steer the school-construction ship?

Perhaps an even grander question is: Which three candidates are best suited to maintain the high standards for excellence that we have come to expect from the Hart school district?

Suzan Solomon

If you're looking for an exceptional candidate with no ulterior motives or closeted skeletons, look no farther than Suzan Solomon.

Longtime leader of the valleywide Council PTA and current vice president of the California State PTA, Solomon has served on the Newhall School Board since 1999.

The Newhall district opened three new elementary schools in that time, with Solomon and her colleagues overseeing developer negotiations and managing voter-approved bond funds.

This year, when Sacramento went into fiscal meltdown, Solomon and her fellow board members carved roughly $2 million from the operational budget without laying off teachers, and even managed to keep the district's music and arts programs running.

Meanwhile, test scores went through the roof.

Solomon's interest in the Hart district isn't new. Her kids, now grown, went through the district, with Mom serving in several capacities including the Measure SA Citizen's Oversight Committee, where she is responsible for keeping an eye on the latest voter-approved bond money.

Suzan Solomon has done a great job for Newhall. Let's put her to work for the whole valley.

Bob Jensen

A candidate with similar proven experience as a school board member - especially in terms of fiscal oversight - is Bob Jensen.

Elected to the Newhall School District board four years ago, Jensen is a certified public accountant by trade.

It's always good to have a professional number-cruncher on a school board.

We don't need to remind you what a mess the Hart district made of its construction finances a few years ago with cost overruns and unchecked change orders.

Best we can tell, the current administration has gotten a grip on those problems and has implemented procedural changes to make sure they aren't repeated.

We'd feel all the more secure with fresh eyes on the subject.

While it's true that by electing Jensen we would be replacing one Hart board member CPA with another from the same CPA firm, we know that Jensen did the job right in Newhall. He has proven that he knows how to manage a budget.

He also deserves to share credit for the Newhall district's stellar test scores, even on campuses with socioeconomic and linguistic challenges.

Jensen also happens to be the only Hart district candidate with children currently enrolled in the district.

We need the skills and experience Jensen brings to the table.

Paul Strickland

The Hart district went through - and emerged stronger from - four grueling years of school construction agony and wild ups and downs in the economy.

If the current board members deserve a healthy dose of blame for the problems of the past, then so too do they deserve credit for overcoming those problems.

No one was more willing to listen, reason and sift through the problems than Paul Strickland.

He was much less a part of the problem than he was a big part of the solution.

A Hart board member for eight years, Strickland's incumbency brings history and experience to a board that cries out for stability.

A 26-year SCV resident who works in the entertainment industry, Strickland is a unique voice on the board.

In addition to building a high school in Castaic, he is clearly committed to opening new campus performing arts centers.

During his tenure, the Hart District has excelled both in academics and athletics. It weathered the state's fiscal storm without laying off teachers.

Paul Strickland is proof that nice guys don't always finish last.

Newhall School District

If both Solomon and Jensen move up to the Hart district board, what happens in Newhall?

Jensen's four-year Newhall district term is up, but Solomon is mid-term, so the remaining board members will have to replace her.
In between, Newhall has a three-seat election of its own Nov. 3.

All three seats are open.

You wouldn't know it by reading your ballot, because it lists John Michael McGrath as an incumbent.

Attention, Newhall School District voters: If you remember nothing else when you go to the polls, please remember this.

Mike McGrath is not running.

He bowed out of the race for family reasons, but he was too late to get off the ballot.

Nothing against the guy, but please don't vote for him. It would mean the remaining Newhall School Board members would have two seats to fill - McGrath's and Solomon's - and you won't get to vote on the appointees.

Fully exercise your voting rights and select three candidates from the remaining field of four.

Those candidates are Phil Ellis, Craig Duswalt, Christy Smith and Scott Miller.

School board service isn't just a two-night-per-month affair. Doing the job right takes 20 hours or more each week.

We believe Smith, Duswalt and Ellis will make the best board members.

All three are solid candidates with ample experience and skill.

Smith, who attended Newhall and Hart district schools, now has kids of her own in our local schools.

She was a policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Education and has served both the Newhall and Hart districts in several volunteer capacities.

Duswalt is well known in local business circles. A father of kids in the Newhall district, Duswalt is perhaps best known for resurrecting the Repertory East Playhouse in Old Town Newhall and for trying to bring a minor league baseball team to the SCV.

His passion and drive would make an interesting addition to the school board.

Phil Ellis is the school board member's school board member. These days, it is difficult to imagine a school board without Phil Ellis on it.

He has served on both the Newhall and Hart boards in the past, has overseen the construction and modernization of more schools than we can count, and has kept more budgets in balance than we can remember.

There might be five candidates on the ballot, but it's simple to make the right decision in Newhall.

It's Smith, Duswalt and Ellis.



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