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Local districts eye election date changes

Supporters say switch to even-numbered years could increase voter turnout, save money

Posted: February 22, 2013 6:14 p.m.
Updated: February 22, 2013 6:14 p.m.
 

All of Santa Clarita Valley’s public school districts have voted in recent weeks to change the dates of their school board elections from odd-numbered to even-numbered years.

In each case, district officials cited a desire to increase voter turnout as the primary reason for the proposed change, with projected financial savings being a secondary benefit.

The change is subject to approval by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Moving elections to even-numbered years would align them with statewide and countywide elections. Since turnout is usually higher for those broader elections, more voters would be likely to cast ballots, officials say.
Ballots on odd-numbered years typically contain only local elections — school boards and water boards, for example.

James Gibson, superintendent of the Castaic Union School District, said the district saw an example of that with the recent Measure QS bond proposal passed in November.

Gibson said the number of ballots cast for Measure QS was roughly twice as much as those cast in a typical Castaic school board election.

In the school district board elections held in November 2011, 128,154 voters in the Hart district were asked to choose two people from a total of three candidates. The top vote-getter collected just 7,530 votes.

The numbers are similar in the elementary school districts. The top vote-getter in the Sulphur Springs district received 1,870 votes out of 27,814 eligible voters.

In the Saugus district, the leading candidate received 2,737 votes from a total registered-voter pool of 52,526.
Besides a hoped-for improvement in voter turnout, adding school board elections to the general ballot could also provide financial benefits for districts, with estimated per-election savings falling between $25,000 for the Newhall School District to potentially more than $100,000 for the William S. Hart Union High School District, according to board documents.

Another impact of changing election dates would be extending the current terms of some school board members. Any board member who is up for election in 2013 would see his or her term lengthened until 2014.

The Hart district board kicked off the recent rash of election date votes, approving a shift in election dates from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years on Feb. 6.

The College of the Canyons Board of Trustees and Sulphur Springs School District followed soon afterward, voting to approve the same change on Feb. 13.

The Newhall district approved the resolution on Tuesday, the same day as the Saugus Union School District, and the Castaic district followed with a vote Thursday.

Michael Berger, president of the COC board, said the financial implications of a potential move weighed heavily in his mind.

When the college considered options to fill a board vacancy created by the departure of now-Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, one choice was to hold a special election.

Berger said the estimated cost of the election was around $875,000.

“And I thought to myself, ‘You’re kidding me. It’s close to $1 million to hold an election?’” Berger said. “That was definitely in the back of my mind when we decided to make the change.”

Hart board President Joe Messina was one of the few local board members who voted against the proposal.

Messina told The Signal his dissenting vote was motivated, in part, because he thinks voters are likely to be more informed if they are voting for school board members in an election that focuses only on local issues.

Regardless of how local board members voted, each proposal to change election years is subject to approval from the Board of Supervisors, which is expected within 60 days of the school board’s vote.

Hart district board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine, who supported the change to even-numbered years, said she was unsure if the supervisors would approve the shift.

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

Gibson, however, said he does not anticipate there will be any issues.

“We kind of got a feel that there is support for the move,” Gibson said.

Lmoney@signalscv.com
661-287-5525
On Twitter @LukeMMoney

 

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