SACRAMENTO — The $5-billion school construction package signed into law by Gov. George Deukmejian this week could touch off a much-needed building boom for public school systems in San Diego County, many local school officials say.
San Diego school officials generally cheered the package, and the reforms it included. But others were cautiously optimistic, noting that the overall plan relies on two bond measures that must still be approved by voters and on the state's unstable tidelands oil revenues.
Universally applauded, however, was a revised state formula for gauging overcrowding, which some school officials predicted would aid all the districts in the county.
Under the old formula which counted libraries, gymnasiums and even outdoor covered walkways in calculations of school space that determined eligibility for state school construction funds, only 11 of the county's 43 school districts could qualify for state funds to build or expand school facilities, officials said.
Most of those--San Dieguito High School District; Ramona, Vista, Mountain Empire, and San Marcos unified districts, and Alpine, Encinitas, Dehessa, Pauma, Jamul and National elementary districts--are in new high-growth developing areas, said Dick Newman, facilities director for the county Department of Education.
But some of the worst overcrowding, officials said, is in school districts in older, more populated county.
Charles Johnson, facilities director for San Diego Unified School District, the county's largest, said officials built the "open air" roofless auditorium at DePortola Junior High School primarily to avoid being penalized by state officials who count everything with a roof over it in calculating school space, and the need for new facilities and expansions.
"It is a ridiculous law that has nothing to do with classrooms," said county schools Superintendent Gerald Rosander.
Rosander said public school districts in San Diego County will have to spend roughly $500 million during the next decade to accommodate an estimated 150,000 additional students.
Assemblyman Larry Stirling (R-San Diego) said had the "stupid law" not been changed, he would have campaigned against a $800 million school construction bond measure on the Nov. 4 ballot and another $800 million bond measure planned for 1988.
Among the major changes in the qualification formula for state school construction funds, which takes effect next year, is that only a third of outdoor covered space will be counted in determining funding. Also, the space allotments per student will be reduced.
"We've done some preliminary calculations. We felt it would be at least three years before we could have qualified for any school construction funds under the old formula," said Santee School District board member Barbara Ryan, who has been lobbying in Sacramento for more than two years for changes in the formula. "Under this new formula, we feel we will be able to qualify this (fiscal) year."
One aspect of the school construction package that caused some concern for San Diego school officials, however, was a limit on developer fees to $1.50 a square foot per residential unit and 25 cents per square foot for new commercial property. Some San Diego County districts in high-growth areas were already charging more than that.
"Hopefully, the state will step in and make up for those losses," said Dr. Raymond Edmond, superintendent of the Solana Beach Elementary district.
As they ironed out last-minute compromises in the school construction package, legislators made an exception to the developer fee limit for the San Dieguito Union High School District, where officials are counting on $20 million to $25 million in developer assistance from builders of North City West, a new community of about 50,000 residents.
San Diego Unified will qualify for state school building funds for the first time under the new legislation, Johnson said. He said the new legislation "forgives" the district for construction of most of its portable facilities which previously disqualified the district's schools from being considered "overcrowded" and eligible for state aid.
In Chula Vista, Supt. Lewis Beall said that school officials are still sorting out the implications of the new laws. He said he expects them to have little immediate impact, however.
Chula Vista City Schools serve the immense Eastlake development on the eastern edges of the city, but an assessment district set up to provide the funds for the needed elementary and secondary schools in the future 30,000-resident community won't be affected, he said.
The school construction plan, which Deukmejian heralded as meeting the state's new classroom needs for the next five years, includes the two bond measures, future revenues from the tidelands oil reserves, some general fund contributions and special incentives for school districts that switch to a year-round schedule, as several in San Diego County already have.
Stirling, who authored one of the three major bills in the package, became involved in the school construction debate initially on behalf of school officials in Santee, who complained that neither developers nor city and state officials were treating them fairly.
Eventually, Stirling became the chief representative of the Assembly Republican Caucus in school construction debates, and he was a member of the conference committee that worked out the compromise package, which he praised.
"Our students' futures are now better served," he said.