AZUSA — The fate of what Azusa Unified School District officials say are long overdue repairs to 18 schools will be determined Tuesday when voters decide whether to pass a $10-million bond issue.
"We are facing a lot of old structures and a lot of grounds that need repair, and there's not enough funds to make that happen," said John Crandall, a member of Citizens for Better School Facilities, an organization campaigning on behalf of the measure.
Duane E. Stiff, Azusa Unified School District superintendent, said that although the schools have been well maintained, "none of the schools have ever had a major refurbishing."
"The district's never had the money to do it. We're talking about a major renovation," Stiff said. "School buildings are like somebody's house: They wear out. Our schools are worn out."
Good Chance for Approval
Kathleen Miller, an administrative assistant for the school district, said there is no organized opposition to the measure and that she believes there is a good chance that it will get the necessary two-thirds majority of those voting.
"It looks good at this point. People understand there is this need," Miller said, adding that parents who have visited their children's schools have seen the problems.
"We have had no real opposition that we have heard of, but that's not to say there's no opposition," she said.
Azusa is believed to be the first school district in California to place a bond measure on the ballot since voters approved state Proposition 46 last June.
Requirement for Majority Approval
Under Proposition 46, cities and school districts can issue general obligation bonds that, in effect, have been precluded by Proposition 13's strict property-tax ceiling. Before the bonds can be issued and property taxes increased to pay for them, however, the measure must be approved by two-thirds of the voters in a special election.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Only registered voters within the school district, which include parts of Covina, Glendora and the City of Industry and serves 9,753 students, may cast ballots.
Passage of the measure would enable the district to issue bonds to pay for an estimated $9.625 million in repairs needed to bring the schools up to current minimum standards. The bonds would be mature over 20 years.
According to Miller, the money would pay for the repair or replacement of air-conditioners, heaters, ceilings, floors, lighting, doors, windows and asphalt.
Other expenditures would be made to upgrade electrical wiring, plumbing and roofing, to paint, to install communications systems and remodel science laboratories and restrooms.
"Many of our schools are 30 years old and a time comes when major repairs are necessary," said Miller. "It's reached a point where it needs to be done."
Miller said that like other districts, the Azusa Unified School District has not had enough money to keep up with repairs and maintenance since Proposition 13 went into effect in 1978.
Low Maintenance Budget
Stiff said that this year's $35-million budget, most of which will go to salaries, earmarked only $200,000 for major repairs such as roofing.
Stiff said that he went to the school board with the bond idea after Proposition 46 passed last year, and that the board unanimously approved it in October.
Stiff said the district is concerned that public apathy and a low turnout among the district's 18,872 registered voters might work against approval.
"We're doing everything we can to get people to the polls. Yet you know how voters are," he said.
Crandall, the director of the graduate education program at Azusa-Pacific University and whose six children attended Azusa schools, said members of Citizens for Better School Facilities have been holding meetings for parents at schools, putting up signs, mailing out information and walking precincts to promote the measure.
1,000 Phone Calls
Bonnie Blum, the district's director of pupil services, said that about 1,000 phone calls were made last week to voters and about 90% of those contacted said they would support the measure.
Miller said some opposition could come from voters who believe that the district has received enough money from the California Lottery to cover maintenance costs. Lottery money, however, makes up only a small portion of the district's budget, she said. Last year, the district received $1.2 million, about 2% to 3% of its budget.
"People think school districts are getting rich off lottery money. That's not the case," Miller said, adding that because lottery ticket sales are down, the district expects to receive only $800,000 this year.
Miller said the district uses most of its lottery revenue for educational programs, such as the acquisition of computers. About 20% of the lottery funds last year went to maintenance and operational needs, she said.
Azusa homeowners are still paying off a bond issue authorized by voters 25 years ago to build new schools, including Hodge Elementary School and Gladstone High School. That bond will be paid off in July, Stiff said.
Under that bond issue, a homeowner with property assessed at $85,000 has been paying about $94 a year in taxes for bond payments, officials said. Under the proposed bond issue, payments for the same property owner would range from a high of $60 a year to a low of $6 over a 20-year period.
Stiff said if the measure is approved, repairs could begin about Thanksgiving and be completed in two or three years.
If it fails, Stiff said, the district will remain "right where we are. The schools will continue to decay."
"Our schools are not air-conditioned and here we are in the middle of the smog belt. It's pretty hard to teach kids in a classroom that's 105 degrees," he said.