AZUSA — A $10-million bond issue to pay for what school officials say are long-overdue repairs to the Azusa Unified School District's 18 schools was approved Tuesday by a 17-vote margin.
The bond measure, which required a two-thirds majority vote, received 1,458 "yes" votes and 704 "no" votes in a special election in which only 11.6% of the district's 18,872 registered voters cast ballots.
"I'm ecstatic. A win is a win," said district Supt. Duane E. Stiff as he shook hands with many of the 60 supporters who waited for election returns at the district's offices. "We're going to have air-conditioned schools, that's what we're going to have."
Under the 20-year bond issue, an Azusa homeowner with property assessed at $85,000 will pay additional taxes of about $45 a year, rising to $60 and then dropping to $6 as the issue is paid off.
Azusa officials believe their district is the first in California to pass a bond measure since voters approved state Proposition 46 last June.
Under Proposition 46, cities and school districts can issue general obligation bonds that have, in effect, been ruled out by Proposition 13's strict property-tax ceiling. But before the bonds can be issued and property taxes increased to pay for them, a bond measure must be approved by a two-thirds majority.
Of the 2,162 ballots cast, 1,441 were needed to approve it. The measure was supported by 67.4% of those who voted.
"As I walked in, they said we did it, just barely," said Jessie Rivera O'Shea, co-chairwoman of Citizens for Better School Facilities, an organization that campaigned on behalf of the measure. "This is something that the schools needed."
The funds will enable the district to issue bonds to pay for an estimated $9.625 million in repairs needed to bring the schools up to minimum state standards.
According to district officials, the money will go to repair or replace air-conditioners, heaters, ceilings, floors, lighting, doors, windows and asphalt in the schools, several of which are 30 years old.
Some of the money will be used to upgrade electrical wiring, plumbing and roofing, install communications systems and remodel science laboratories.
"I'm very happy for the children," O'Shea said. "I hope everything gets upgraded promptly."
Stiff said the work could begin in November, after the legalities of the bond issue are worked out and architects have planned necessary renovations. It should be completed in about two years.
Passage of the bond measure comes only a few months before homeowners in Azusa will finish paying off a bond issue authorized by voters 25 years ago to build new schools, including Hodge Elementary School and Gladstone High School.
"We're so excited about it. Our parents did this for us. Now it's our turn to pay it back," said Rosemary Garcia, a member of the school board.
District officials were concerned that public apathy and a low voter turnout might work against passage of the measure, so Citizens for Better School Facilities and other supporters held meetings for parents at schools, put up signs, made phone calls and mailed out information.
"Although it was a low turnout, I am pleased," 0'Shea said. "Even those who voted 'no,' I'm glad they voted, just to get them out to vote."
Sandra Laub, special projects coordinator for the district, said she was grateful to the parents who worked to spread the word about the measure.
"I'm so proud of our community. Even the kids knew what we were talking about. Hats off to this community," she said.