MHUSD trustee shocked by win in county board race

Adam Escoto

After bowing out of the race last month for a Santa Clara County
Board of Education seat, Julia Hover-Smoot woke up a winner
Wednesday morning.
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Incumbent Jaime Rosso leads GUSD field
135,000 mail-in ballots uncounted
After bowing out of the race last month for a Santa Clara County Board of Education seat, Julia Hover-Smoot woke up a winner Wednesday morning.

The Morgan Hill Unified School District Trustee had taken her hat out of the ring and thrown her support behind Adam Escoto, but voters delivered an unexpected twist.

“I’m in shock. No, I’m past shock,” Hover-Smoot said this morning. “I am going to take the job. What an opportunity.”

With all 184 precincts reported as of 5 a.m., Hover-Smoot secured 13,754 votes or 45.7 percent; Escoto finished with 12,570 votes or 41.8 percent; and Cy Mann, appointed Santa Clara Valley Water District director, came in a distant last place with 3,747 votes or 12.5 percent.

Hover-Smoot said her husband called early this morning with the news.

“He said, ‘Are you sitting down?'” Hover-Smoot replied, “I already know Boxer won! ‘No this is more important,’ he said.”

She and Escoto, who was backed by outgoing trustee Jane Howard from Gilroy, said it was surprising to see the votes swing so favorably for Hover-Smoot.

“I can’t imagine what moves the voters but I hope that I can do the same things that I brought to Morgan Hill. I’ve tried to break down barriers that stand in the way of student success. There’s a lot of work to do and it will be very challenging. I’m so thrilled,” Hover-Smoot said, who was elected to the MHUSD board in 2008.

In August just before the candidate filing deadline, Hover-Smoot and Escoto – separately – saw that Mann, then a controversial appointee to the SCVWD, could win the Board of Education seat unopposed and were each motivated to run to ensure voters had a choice and a qualified candidate.

On Sept. 21, Hover-Smoot pulled out of the race, saying she wanted to continue to serve in Morgan Hill and she could “assure voters that Mr. Escoto is a well-qualified and competent candidate who will provide meaningful leadership to the families of the districts he will represent.”

Despite Hover-Smoot’s withdrawal, it was too late to remove her name from the ballots. Escoto said he knew that was going to be “problematic.”

“Sometimes these surprises happen,” he said. Escoto called Hover-Smoot this morning and she told him she was prepared to serve.

“I didn’t think that was going to happen. In addition to the support I had gotten, she was also one of my supporters,” Escoto said. “But, the bottom line is she got more votes than I did. She will be a productive and contributory board member.”

Hover-Smoot said, “I respect him and I hope he would continue to stay in contact with me and be an adviser.” To which Escoto said he will “continue to be supportive of kids in our district. I have every intention to do so.”

Escoto, who has lived in Morgan Hill for 23 years with his wife Laura Gonzalez-Escoto, most recently was the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction and also special education at the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto. For more than 20 years prior to Ravenswood, Escoto worked for the San Jose Unified School District as an assistant principal and later the principal of Horace Mann Elementary. He said in a September interview that closing the achievement gap was high on his list of priorities if elected.

The County Board of Education is a seven-member board which oversees the county superintendent, approves the office of education’s budget and is responsible for teacher support and special needs students, youths in juvenile hall, ROP and charter schools.

Hover-Smoot will serve as trustee for Area 7 that covers Morgan Hill Unified, Gilroy Unified, Alum Rock Union, Mount Pleasant and corresponding portion of East Side Union High school districts.

As a sitting MHUSD board member, Hover-Smoot’s decision to accept the position opens up a fifth seat on the school board. That position will not automatically go to the fifth vote-getter in Tuesday’s election, but rather the process will be decided by the sitting school board once Hover-Smoot officially resigns.

In the past, the board has held interviews and then appoints a new member during a vacancy. Hosting a special election is an option, though because it’s so costly it’s often not done, according to Julie Zintsmaster, secretary to MHUSD Superintendent Wes Smith.

According to the California Education Code, “whenever a vacancy occurs, or whenever a resignation has been filed with the county superintendent of schools …, the school district governing board shall within 60 days of the vacancy … either order an election or make a provisional appointment to fill the vacancy … A person appointed to fill a vacancy shall hold office only until the next regularly scheduled election (November 2012) for district governing board members.”

The newly and re-elected board members will be sworn into office at the Dec. 14 board meeting. Current board members will serve through the end of November.

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