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Schools Urge New Lottery Fund Use

August 22, 1986|ELAINE WOO | Times Education Writer

Determined to spend most of its lottery proceeds to house a surging enrollment, the Los Angeles school district is making a last-ditch effort to push a bill through the state Senate that would enable districts to use the money to construct new schools.

The district has received $60 million thus far from the lottery and expects $70 million more next year. But while other districts have used their lottery dollars to boost teacher salaries and purchase supplies, Los Angeles has been awaiting the outcome of legislation by Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) that would alter the lottery law to permit the use of lottery proceeds for school construction.

The district had held off spending any of its lottery money until this week, when the school board tentatively decided to distribute $12 million--about $20 a pupil--to the schools.

Not for Buildings

Under the lottery initiative approved by voters in 1984, schools are specifically prohibited from using the money to buy land or build classrooms and are limited to uses that would directly benefit instruction, such as the purchase of books and other materials.

In its original version, passed by the Assembly earlier this year, the Waters bill required only a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to alter the lottery law. However, because of objections from Sen. Ralph C. Dills (D-Gardena) and other legislators that voters did not intend to allow school construction with lottery dollars when they approved the lottery initiative, the Senate amended the bill to require statewide voter approval in November.

However, before the Legislature recessed in July, Dills reversed himself and opposed the amended bill because he feared that placing the measure on the fall ballot would force voters to choose between it and a separate $800-million school construction bond proposal that also will be on the ballot.

To avoid a stalemate, district officials now are scurrying to draft new language for the Waters bill that would allow individual school districts to place it on local ballots in April. They are attempting to get it back to the Senate for a vote before the Legislature adjourns Aug. 29.

According to Ronald Prescott, assistant superintendent for government relations, the proposal to place the measure on the spring ballot would avoid conflict with the November bond measure as well as satisfy critics, like Dills, who believe that voters must be given the chance to approve or reject the change in the lottery law.

Local Voters Preferred

School board member Larry Gonzalez said that Los Angeles and other large urban districts that urgently need money to build schools stand a stronger chance of winning the right to use lottery funds for construction if local voters make the decision.

"What may be a high priority in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Long Beach may not be the highest priority in much smaller school districts in other parts of the state," he said. "Voters in those districts may not be aware of the acute overcrowding facing some communities, like Los Angeles."

Los Angeles is expecting enrollment to grow by 80,000 students by 1990. To accommodate the increase, the district would have to build 11 new schools a year over the next five years.

However, the state, which funds most school construction, requires five to seven years to process building applications. According to Assistant Supt. Ronald Prescott, the use of lottery funds would speed up the construction process by at least a year.

If the district is unable to use lottery money to build schools, Prescott said, the cost to the district of running year-round schools and busing students from overcrowded campuses to schools with more room will continue to rise and will deplete the district's already overburdened general fund.

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