COUNTYWIDE : District May Cancel Off-Year Elections

The Huntington Beach Union High School District next week may become the third Orange County district in recent months to postpone school board elections scheduled for this November until the 1992 general election.

The Board of Trustees at its meeting Tuesday is expected to decide whether the district should remain among the ever-dwindling number of districts who hold special board elections during years when no statewide polling is held.

Proponents argue that off-year elections focus more voter attention on board races. But since 1985, all but six school districts of the county’s 27 have abandoned special elections because they typically cost two to three times more than a contest that coincides with a general election.

Last December, the Coast Community College District’s board agreed to cancel its Nov. 5 election and incorporate its next board race into next year’s general election. The district estimates that the move will save more than $100,000 on each election, district spokeswoman Ann Garten said.


The Lowell Joint School District board last month also agreed to change to general-election balloting.

Coast’s decision poses a dilemma for the financially strapped Huntington Beach district. Since the college district’s boundaries encompass those of the Huntington Beach Union High School and Newport-Mesa Unified school districts, Coast has shared election costs with those districts in the past.

Now, with Coast’s withdrawal from off-year balloting, those two districts each will have to foot the bill if they are to continue holding special board elections. The districts have until March 10 to notify the county registrar of voters if they wish to postpone this November’s election, which would be their most expensive ever.

Newport-Mesa’s school board may be discussing the new financial impact of off-year races but plans to hold this year’s election as scheduled, said Tom Godley, the district’s assistant superintendent for budget facilities, personnel services and auditing.

For Huntington Beach Union, however, the question of whether to hold a more costly election is a crucial decision, given the district’s severe budget crisis. The board in the coming months must cut an estimated $2.5 million to balance the 1991-'92 budget, Supt. Lawrence Kemper said.

The district has been spending about $72,000 for each election shared with the college district, Kemper said. An isolated election in November would cost about $100,000, he said, adding that a board contest consolidated into a general election would cost the district about $40,000.

Board President Charmayne Bohman, however, said she is hesitant to back a postponement of the election. Bohman said she is not sure whether the potential financial savings is reason enough to “place school elections at the bottom of (voters’) priority lists.”