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Simi Officials Expect Voters to Approve School Bond

April 07, 1988|RENE ROMO | Times Staff Writer

Simi Valley Unified School District officials said they are optimistic that voters in the April 12 special election will approve a $35-million general obligation bond to renovate the district's 27 schools.

A two-thirds vote is necessary to pass the property-tax increase.

Officials said they believe voters will respond to the need to make extensive repairs at the schools in a community with the highest per capita income in Ventura County. On the average, the schools are 25 years old.

The repairs are necessary to protect the community's $200-million capital investment in the schools, said Supt. John Duncan. According to the district, the added tax would be based on assessed value and would cost the average homeowner $69.47 annually at the peak of the tax rate schedule. The bond obligation would be paid off in 25 years.

Necessary Renovations

Renovations would include $22 million in improvements, with 77% of that amount going for air conditioning and heating units. About $4 million would be used to repair cracked blacktop and sprinkler systems. The rest would finance the general obligation.

Many of those interviewed said little persuasion is necessary to convince voters of the need for physical improvements to the schools. "I think the schools and the conditions of the schools speak for themselves," said Ilsa Shelton, a vice president of the Simi Valley Parent Teacher Assn. council. "I don't think the parents need too much prodding. Once they are aware of the problems, they have to take the matter into their own hands."

But just to be on the safe side, the school district has been getting the word out.

Since January, members of the PTA have phoned thousands of homes, spelling out the facts and encouraging parents to register to vote, said Shelton, who headed the phone campaign.

At the district's request, PTA volunteers contacted about 8,000 parents whose 18,600 children attend district schools, she said. Simi Valley has 40,000 registered voters.

About 1,000 parents registered to vote during the registration period that began in January and ended at the beginning of March.

Volunteers also took absentee ballots to parents who requested them, said Shelton.

Parents' Extensive Effort

"It was an all-out parent effort," Shelton, 42, said.

District officials themselves conducted a series of 27 "town hall" meetings to explain costs and answer questions.

The need for repairs was illustrated with a video produced by a district staffer in which students, teachers, parents and others talk about their particular school's needs.

In one scene, a concerned member of the PTA Council places her entire foot in a hole in the cracked and crumbling blacktop at a school. In another segment, a little girl haltingly describes how the roof leaks, the ceiling tiles stain and students have to move their desks to avoid dripping rainwater. Another shot shows rust-colored water gurgling from a drinking fountain at 61-year-old Simi Elementary School.

And, in an unusual move, district officials softened the obligation's effect on taxpayers. The district got Assemblywoman Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) to sponsor legislation to allow school districts to extend repayment of state loans if local voters approve general obligation bonds.

The state Senate passed an amended bill, AB 3151, on a 29-0 vote March 24 that applies just to Simi Valley. Gov. George Deukmejian signed the amended bill into law.

As a result, school district officials were able to advertise a vote for the bond as a vote for a tax rate decrease. As Duncan puts it, "If the bond issue passes, there will be a savings to the voters immediately. And that doesn't happen too often in the world of bond issues."

So far, the school district has encountered little opposition to passage of the bond.

Among the most vocal of the few critics is Thomas Ely, a member of the Ventura County Community College District Board of Trustees since 1979 and a 1986 Simi Valley mayoral candidate. Ely, who is not opposed to the bond's passage, says negligence by the administration caused the district to fall $35 million behind in maintenance.

District officials assert that employee salaries and benefits take up 85% of the $58.6-million operating budget and that only about $1.2 million is available for day-to-day maintenance.

'Let's Not Forget'

Ely says: "I've never said that the bond should not be approved. I'm just saying that let's not forget who got us into this situation. I say, next election, let's throw them the hell out of office."

Lincoln Demyan, 62, a real estate broker who says he represents "hundreds of grass-roots people" in a group called Simi Citizens Against Taxation, also criticized district administrators for the shortfall.

The bond issue has been endorsed by state Sen. Ed Davis, Assemblywoman Cathie Wright, the Ventura County Taxpayers Assn., the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce and other groups.

The Chamber of Commerce also endorses the bond issue. Nancy Bender, executive director of the chamber, said data about the school district is among the information most frequently requested by businesses considering locating in Simi Valley.

If the bond issue does not pass, Duncan said, "it would be necessary to go to another bond. And then, there could come a time when we would have to close schools because of disrepair."

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