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With All the Ballots Counted, Beverly Hills School District Comes Out on Top

April 13, 1986|JOHN L. MITCHELL and MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writers

In the course of ballot-counting at the Beverly Hills City Hall on election night, soon-to-be-victorious candidate Maxwell Hillary Salter leaned over to Frank Fenton, president of the school board, and said, "You should be a happy man tonight. No matter who gets elected, everybody wants to give you money."

Just how much money the City Council will transfer to the schools remains to be seen, however, officials said.

Incoming Mayor Charlotte Spadaro said increased city support for the schools will be the first order of business before the new City Council that will be sworn in Tuesday evening.

But she warned that the municipal till is not bottomless, saying, "That's really the major issue--the ability of the city to fund the schools. We need to take a close look at our budget and find the proper way to handle the situation."

The city is already paying about $1.3 million a year for use of playgrounds and other facilities, Finance Director Donald J. Oblander said, and any additional funding will have to come from elsewhere in its budget of about $50 million.

Additionally, state law bars the city from giving gifts to other governmental bodies.

Still, education was one of the voters' major concerns during council campaigns when teachers threatened a strike and administrators spoke of the school district's impending bankruptcy.

Even though the schools' financial crisis traces back to Proposition 13 and a court decision requiring equal state aid to all school districts, many voters apparently held the City Council responsible.

Although Councilwoman Annabelle Heiferman was a member of a City Council committee that sought ways to legally increase school funding, Fenton said she lost her reelection bid because voters believed that she was one of many municipal leaders who put capital improvement projects over the financial well-being of the schools.

In the last two years, work has continued on a Civic Center expansion project complete with new headquarters for the police and fire departments, new parking structures were dedicated and a full-scale renovation of Roxbury Park neared completion.

Heiferman "was carrying the burden of the new City Hall, and that was too much," Fenton said. "The average citizen . . . perceives City Hall spending a lot of money for new buildings and new parks and they see the school district crying for money, and they say something is wrong."

Fenton said he regrets Heiferman's departure, but "on behalf of the children, I'm delighted that the posture of the City Council is going to be very positive toward the school district."

Because Heiferman and retired Councilman Edward I. Brown, both members of the current council's school liaison committee, have left office, Spadaro said she will name a new committee Tuesday night. "We'll hope to focus on the issues and solve them as creatively and as soon as we can," she said, noting her own special expertise as a former president of the school board.

"I think enough ways have been identified that can be implemented immediately to take care of the problems that exist," she said.

She was referring to recommendations by a board-appointed committee that identified more than $1 million a year in school district services that could be underwritten by the city.

The new proposals include city funding for after-hours general use of school libraries and playground maintenance.

While agreeing that increased funding for the schools will be one of the first priorities of the new council, Councilman Benjamin H. Stansbury Jr. said, "There is a limit as to how much the city can provide."

Noting that the council has guaranteed the current level of funding for another two years, he said negotiations will have to determine how much it can be increased.

"Six million dollars would be too high," he said. "One million or so we're already doing, so somewhere between there. We need to work out what's logical."

He said suggestions that the Civic Center project will cost $200 million that should have gone to the schools was "a gross distortion of the facts."

In fact, he said, the Civic Center project will cost less than $90 million, with a real cost to the taxpayers of about $20 million as a result of investments that will offset the cost of borrowing the money needed over the next 20 years.

'There Is a Limit'

"As to the schools, they certainly are running a deficit and they certainly need several million dollars a year from outside sources, without question. But there is a limit to how much the city can provide of that," Stansbury said.

In an interview Tuesday night, Robert K. Tanenbaum, the top vote-getter in the election, said the new council "must not be chilled" by the idea of facing legal action as a result of making an outright gift to the school district.

But Spadaro said she did not believe that would be necessary. "I think enough ways have been identified that can be implemented immediately to take care of the problems that exist," she said.

The Beverly Hills Unified School District needs to raise $1 million through budget cuts or donations to balance its budget by the beginning of the next school year, said John H. Scoggin, assistant superintendent for business.

Beyond that, he said, the current rate of spending will leave the school with a $2 million shortfall, wiping out its reserves by the end of the 1986-87 school year.

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