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Bond for Schools Outside Poway a Heated Issue

April 05, 1988|NANCY RAY | Times Staff Writer

A proposed $58-million school bond for the Poway Unified School District has caused a simmering feud between Poway and San Diego residents to erupt into verbal warfare.

As the April 12 single-issue election nears, Poway residents' enmity over the proposed multimillion-dollar bond issue that would fund new schools outside the city's boundaries grows louder.

Although there is no organized opposition to the bond issue, proponents point out, individual residents are voicing their spleen in local newspaper opinion columns and at free-swinging community debates.

The clash occurs because the Poway Unified School District lies mainly within the City of San Diego--encompassing the emerging community of Sabre Springs and the fast-growing suburbs of Rancho Penasquitos and Rancho Bernardo.

Schools to Be Outside Poway

The four schools that would be built would be in San Diego city areas that surround the City of Poway. A high school is planned for Rancho Bernardo; an elementary school in each of three San Diego suburbs. None of the new facilities is proposed for the City of Poway.

"Why should we people in Poway pay additional taxes for building schools in San Diego?" Poway parent Carol Long asked. "Our (Poway) schools are already built and are overcrowded because students from Rancho Bernardo are sent here."

Long and her neighbor, Denise Gomes, call themselves the "unorganized opposition" to the bond issue. Although both have youngsters in the Poway Unified schools, they feel that the school administration is not giving Poway residents a fair shake.

"What happened to all the lottery money? How about the thousands of dollars that the (Poway) City Council has spent on school projects? Why aren't developers' fees paying for schools in those San Diego suburbs?" Long asked, echoing the tone of anti-bond letter writers to the Poway weekly newspaper.

Poway taxpayers aren't the only ones grumbling about the school bond proposal. At a recent forum, a group of Rancho Penasquitos residents asked about a new high school and middle school that the Poway school district had promised by the 1989 fall school term. Now Penasquitos residents are being told by Poway school officials that there is not enough money for the two projects unless the bonds are passed.

The Penasquitos community, across Interstate 15 from the City of Poway, is the fastest-growing area of the City of San Diego. Poway and Rancho Bernardo residents both have questioned in letters to local newspapers why the San Diego City Council, which they blame for the runaway growth, should not be held responsible for coming up with the funds for needed Penasquitos urban services--including schools.

The Coalition to Save Quality Education, supporters of the school bond, is a well-organized group that has spent the past three weeks trying to educate voters in the school district about the issue.

Between 300 and 400 coalition volunteers and paid workers have been going door-to-door, registering voters, explaining the issues and handing out brochures in a massive get-out-the-vote campaign that will continue until April 12.

Mass mailings are planned and phone banks will be activated to get pro-bond voters to the polls in an effort to tally the estimated 12,000 votes needed for passage by a two-thirds majority, proponents say.

Hannah Edelstein, a coalition volunteer, said state lottery money, which makes up about 2% of the school district's budget, can't be used for school construction and that developers' fees--about $20 million--are not enough to build the needed facilities.

An assessment district--allowed under 1982 state Mello-Roos Bill legislation--is in place in the Poway Unified district, but assessments from the district can only be used for future school needs, not the deficiencies that have built up since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, Edelstein said.

Developers' funds were to be matched with state school bond money to build needed facilities, but the state has a backlog of nearly $10 billion in requests from school districts, she said, and Poway's overcrowding is far from the worst, putting the district low on the priority list for funds.

"The fact is that we have about 20,000 students now and room for 16,000. The rest are in portable classrooms or trailers," Edelstein said, "and if we don't pass this bond issue, we must look forward to multitrack scheduling, double sessions and even possibly busing of students."

Claims Ranking Threatened

Edelstein also said overcrowding is a threat to the Poway district's high ranking in state student achievement tests.

"This bond issue will cost the owners of a $150,000 home an average of $4 a month, averaged over the 20-year period of the bonds," she said. "I don't think that's too much to ask for a quality education."

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