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Our View: Incumbents a good fit for Hart district

Posted: October 23, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: October 23, 2011 1:30 a.m.
 

These days, being an elected official charged with setting policy for public schools sounds like about the most thankless position imaginable — like being a chaperone on senior ditch day or a tax collector at a tea party convention.

So it is with a touch of pride in our community at the caliber of candidates that we consider the slate for the Nov. 8 election to the William S. Hart Union High School District board.

Two seats are up for grabs on the five-member board, and three candidates are running, including both incumbents. A debate earlier this month hosted by The Signal, SCVTV and KHTS provided an informative forum for candidates’ platforms.

Challenger Heather Davis is running a low-key campaign. An educator at a San Fernando Valley charter school, she has declined to solicit funds, campaigning online and making public appearances instead of postings “vote for me” signs around town and funding mailers.

Her declared goal: to serve the community with the skills she has.

Davis made it clear she would be a bottom-line-watcher if elected to the board. She is knowledgeable about a number of education issues — as one would expect from an educator — as well as specific issues facing the 23,000-student Hart district.

The debate also provided a fresh look at the veteran board members seeking reelection.

Gloria Mercado-Fortine has served the board for three terms, weathering the last year with dignity and aplomb as fellow board members had her investigated for a possible conflict of interest, for which she was completely exonerated.

An educator herself, Mercado-Fortine demonstrated both the strength of her understanding of educational issues and the breadth of her understanding of district issues during the debate.

Steve Sturgeon is a local businessman who has also served the district for three terms. During the debate, he showed a detailed grasp of the district’s relationships with its unions — and noted the district’s strength in the face of state budget cuts is largely due to those positive relationships.

He also demonstrated a breadth and depth of understanding of other district issues.

The Hart district has demonstrated some faults in the past that would justify a call for fresh blood: careless spending of bond-measure money, the long, drawn-out search for a Castaic high school site, arguably too much money awarded to an outgoing superintendent whose length of service was not particularly remarkable.

But the board’s leadership over the past several years has steadied. A mechanism is in place to monitor all future bond spending; an apparently outstanding new superintendent has been hired; a level-headed commitment to build a Castaic high school has been demonstrated; leadership in the face of budget cutbacks has been remarkable; perhaps best of all, a demand for excellence from top to bottom in the district has resulted in remarkable student achievement.

Mercado-Fortine and Sturgeon deserve credit for this strong leadership.

We believe Davis would be an effective board member. But with many district issues still unresolved and the strong leadership demonstrated by both incumbents, returning them to office would best serve the children, parents and taxpayers of the William S. Hart Union High School District.

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