Santa Monica and Malibu voters ended their ballot on a yes note and approved a school district bond measure to repair decaying local campuses.
Proposition ES, a $75-million general obligation bond measure to benefit the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, was approved by 74% of the voters, handily above the two-thirds margin needed. That it passed was perhaps unsurprising, because it was endorsed by several local officials, candidates and community groups and had no organized opposition.
In the Santa Monica College board election, voters opted for experience, electing either incumbents or those candidates long active in education. In the race for the Santa Monica-Malibu district board, two candidates were running neck and neck for the last open seat, with the outcome hanging on still-uncounted absentee ballots.
The Proposition ES proceeds will go to the 13 schools in the district, many of which are more than 50 years old and plagued by leaky roofs, cracked pavement, and antiquated plumbing and electrical wiring. Buildings will be brought up to earthquake- and fire-safety standards and be made accessible to the handicapped; exposed asbestos will be removed, and classrooms and libraries, modernized. The renovation is scheduled to begin in the summer of 1992 and be finished within about six years.
"We bucked the trend of the whole state," an elated Board President Dan Ross said Wednesday.
"I thought it'd be closer to 69, 70%," said Supt. Eugene Tucker. "In view of the voter reaction to the other bond measures, I'm just overwhelmed."
The bonds will be sold over four years, beginning in September, 1991, and will be repaid through increases in the property tax rate over 28 years. The average homeowner in the district--whose home is assessed at $236,000--would pay an average of $68 more a year for the 28 years: The boost would be about $27 the first year, would peak at $146 in the fourth year and then begin to decline.
The tax increases are likely to be passed on to tenants, since this is favored by the four candidates who were elected Tuesday to the Santa Monica Rent Control Board. Renters would pay about $2 more a month.
Repairs have been a low priority for the financially strapped district, administrators and board members say. In recent years, funding from the state has dropped with the district's enrollment, and the district has tried to make budget cuts in maintenance and other areas rather than in classroom programs.
Within the next few months, the district will hire a construction management firm and an independent auditor and draft a five-year plan with a priority order for the work, Tucker said. Referring to the auditor, board member Della Barrett said she wants "taxpayers to feel confident, and everyone who makes a bid aware, that there'll be an outsider monitoring . . . so that people right from the beginning are on their toes."
To avoid slipping into a state of decay again, the district is considering selling some of its surplus property and using the interest on the money for maintenance.
The bond will be among the largest issued for a local school system in California. Statewide, general obligation bonds in local school districts have had about a 55% passage rate, with 64 out of 117 passing as of June, 1990.
Proposition ES proponents, who formed Citizens for Safe Schools, raised and spent about $69,000, said campaign consultant Mark Siegel. They were supported by the Santa Monica City Council, the school board and the candidates running for it, and local tenant and homeowner groups.
District residents also have a track record of supporting the schools, voting to pass a parcel tax for the district in 1984 and again in 1988, even though only about 10% of the households in the district have school-age children.
Proponents of the measure urged voters to muster the stamina to reach Proposition ES, listed at the end of the county ballot after scores of propositions and candidates' names.
Fred Anderson, chairman of the political action committee of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Assn., said the bond will improve faculty and student morale. "You can't do an effective job in a crappy environment," said Anderson, a John Adams Middle School teacher, adding that broken windows in his room have taken three months to get fixed. "It's difficult to teach kids values such as respect for property (and) cleanliness when they can look down and see holes in the carpet," he said.
The races for the school board and for the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees were notable for their amicability and the similar positions among the candidates. So low-key was the college board campaign, with five candidates for four slots, that one candidate--and winner--Ralph Villani, reportedly went out of town on vacation this week.