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Tustin District, Irvine Co. Seek Plan on Schools

January 22, 1986|BILL BILLITER | Times Staff Writer

In an action that underscores California's escalating problem in financing new school buildings, the Tustin Unified School District and the Irvine Co. are trying to find a way to build new schools for up to 9,000 new students expected in an Irvine Co. subdivision planned in eastern Tustin.

Tustin Unified School District officials said Tuesday that plans by the Irvine Co. to build about 9,000 new homes in eastern Tustin over the next 10 years would overwhelm the existing schools in the city. They also said that neither the school district nor the state has money now to pay for building new schools needed in the east Tustin development.

The school officials said the Irvine Co. is being asked to make sure that school financing is forthcoming before more houses go up in east Tustin.

"What we're proposing is that there be a safety net," said Tustin schools Supt. Maurice Ross. "We don't want to impede growth, but we have to be sure there is a way of providing for the schools."

Added school board President Joyce Hanson: "We want to work out (with the Irvine Co.) a memo of understanding so that there'll be adequate schooling when the homes are occupied."

Ross and other Tustin Unified officials said that unlike previous years, when local bond issues and state aid could quickly finance school construction, no such financial solution exists today. Following passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, school districts' ability to finance schools through property taxation and bond issues was drastically cut back. Simultaneously, the state began shouldering most of the cost of running local schools.

State officials in Sacramento said Tuesday that Tustin Unified is correct in saying that no state money is available to help build new schools.

$1 Billion Short

California is already more than $1 billion short of the money it needs for existing applications for school construction and rehabilitation, said Ernie Lehr, state Department of Education director of development of school facilities and transportation.

An Irvine Co. official said Tuesday that he thinks the company and Tustin Unified will agree on a plan for needed schools in the near future. "We need to find the answer (for schools to go with the residential growth), and my impression is that they want to do that with us," said Michael Le Blanc, senior director for government relations with the Irvine Co.

Tustin City Manager William Huston said in an interview that the city agrees that new schools must be built to accompany the Irvine Co. residential development. He said he thinks that an agreement will be reached by the school district, the Irvine Co. and the city on the best way of doing this--without halting the construction timetable. Part of the subdivision is already under construction, but most of the new homes are to be built over the next 10 years.

A Number of Options

"We're going to have growth out there (in east Tustin)," Huston said. "The issue isn't whether we're going to have schools; the issue is how we're going to pay for them." Huston said a number of options are available, including a state law that allows a new residential development to be taxed as a "special district" in order to raise school-construction money.

Huston said that the City of Tustin--and not the school board--has sole authority over granting of zoning and construction permits. "The city controls that," he said.

Peter Hartman, superintendent of Saddleback Valley Unified School District in southern Orange County, said Tuesday that his district, like Tustin, is facing proposed subdivision development without ways of financing new schools.

"We have 40 developers in our district who want to build," Hartman said. "Our school board is very concerned because we already have overcrowded schools without more students coming in."

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