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Supporters Try a Hard-Sell Tactic to Get 4 Schools

March 31, 1988|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

Bea Speckens doesn't use a hard sell except on the hardest of cases, and that's what she found this week when a retired business manager answered the door at an Oxnard retirement community.

When he objected that a $40-million bond measure to build schools would lure "families with eight or nine children that can't speak English," she pointed out that he would like the alternative even less.

If the bond measure does not pass in the April 12 special election, Oxnard school officials will have no choice but to educate students in two shifts, Speckens said.

At any given time, she explained, "half those kids will be wandering the streets. What are they going to do? Get into trouble."

Speckens later confided that she loathes playing to racist fears. But, as a former junior high school teacher who retired three years ago from the cramped Oxnard district, she believes that the end, building four schools in the district, justifies the means.

"Our classrooms are bulging," she said.

Oxnard Elementary School District officials and a group of bond-measure supporters who call themselves Friends of Oxnard Schools are pulling out the stops to publicize Measure A, one of two bond issues that will go before Ventura County voters. Simi Valley Unified School District will ask voters to approve a $35-million bond initiative to renovate existing schools.

About 15 precinct captains last week began mobilizing volunteers to spread the word through 20 areas in the Oxnard district. Two days before the election, they plan to telephone each registered voter who has expressed support for the measure. Late on Election Day, volunteers also plan to urge reluctant supporters to show up at the polls.

Even voters who manage to avoid these canvassers won't miss the message. Supporters have printed T-shirts bearing a little red schoolhouse and the words, Vote Yes for New Schools. Last weekend, they began planting 500 signs with the same message on lawns.

And a series of public service announcements that has been running for two weeks on the district's cable television station will soon be seen on two area commercial stations, said Norman Brekke, district superintendent.

'Big Test' Coming

In the commercial most designed to tug at voters' heartstrings, a Fremont Intermediate School student urges: "Mom and Dad, you've got a big test coming up, and it's called Measure A."

Although no organized opposition to the bond has surfaced, its supporters are not taking any chances. They acknowledge that most measures raising taxes face a tough time. In Oxnard, additional property taxes on a home with an assessed valuation of $150,000 would amount to an average of about $81 a year until 2015. Supporters are spending $50,000 to run ads, hire two political consultants and staff a "command post" two days a week.

They point out that Oxnard voters soundly defeated much smaller bond measures in 1973 and 1975. In 1978, Proposition 13 limited the means of local governmental entities--including school districts--from raising property taxes, but a state law that took effect last year allows school districts to once again hold bond elections.

Even though they hope the passage in November of a Fillmore bond measure--smaller than Oxnard's--signaled a change in voter mood, district officials say that they cannot afford to take support for granted.

District enrollment is swelling with the children of immigrants, military personnel and parents attracted to the city's relatively affordable housing. Soon it will outgrow Oxnard's 13 elementary and two junior high schools, district officials predict.

Although a decade-long transition to year-round education has maximized use of the schools by filling classrooms all year, district officials say they may be forced as soon as next year to institute double sessions. The early session would run from 6 a.m. to noon, and the later session would go from 12:15 p.m. until 6:15 p.m.

Oxnard would be one of few places in the United States to offer such an elongated schedule.

"I have not encountered such a thing, and I probably would have heard of it," said Lee Goodman, associate executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

On the other hand, an official with the California Department of Education said starting a double-session school day at 6 a.m. would be "realistic." William L. Rukeyser, special assistant to the state superintendent of public instruction, said double sessions were not uncommon in the 1960s, but added he had not heard of any California districts requiring them now.

Developers' fees, which the district used to build Lemonwood School in 1977, are too scarce and accrue too slowly to meet the burgeoning need, district officials say.

They make the same argument about $1.6 billion in state funds that will become available if two upcoming state bond issues are successful. Projects financed by the state take a minimum of five years to complete, Brekke said.

Strong Competition

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