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Bond Issue for Schools Being Studied : Finances: After striking out in three tries for a parcel tax, school board is taking a new approach.


BEVERLY HILLS — After three failed attempts to pass a tax to fund schools, the Beverly Hills Unified School District will take a different approach with voters this year.

School officials hope to put a bond issue on the Nov. 2 ballot that would pay for modernizing the district's aging facilities. They predict that a bond measure will prove more appealing to voters than did the ill-fated parcel tax, which could never quite muster the two-thirds vote needed to pass.

"(The bond issue) is entirely different than a parcel tax," said school board President Richard Stone. "I think it's going to pass strongly. I don't think it will be a squeaker."

The school district is looking at a 25-year bond of less than $100 million, Stone said. For a home with an assessed property value of $200,000, that would translate to an additional $55 in property taxes each year. Parcel taxes, in contrast, would have cost homeowners about $250 a year.

Critics complained that the parcel tax measures, offered in 1987, 1990 and 1991, were unfair because small property owners had to pay nearly the same amount as owners of lavish estates and office buildings. The bond issue, in contrast, would tax parcels in proportion to assessed property value.

Also, state law restricts the use of voter-approved bond revenues to capital improvements, Stone said. Fixing heaters and leaky roofs is not as controversial as paying for salaries and educational programs, which are things a parcel tax could pay for.

"We have aging facilities that are in deplorable condition," Stone said. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that."

But a bond measure is more expensive than a parcel tax to prepare for the ballot, Stone said, because it requires more research. The school board has approved spending $88,820 on the effort so far.

At a meeting Tuesday, board members approved paying $73,820 to an architecture firm to assess the physical needs of the district. Another $15,000 was approved for a consultant to gauge community attitudes toward a bond measure, specifically looking at how large a bond and what kind of improvements would most likely receive support.

The school board must formulate and vote on the measure by July 2 in order to meet the deadline for the November ballot. The architect's report is due May 23.

School board member Phil Harris initially opposed trying to meet a July deadline, saying the board was "rushing the process." With more time, the architect's report would be better, he said. And an upcoming state measure, which, if passed, would lower the two-thirds vote required to pass a parcel tax to a simple majority, might affect the district's options.

But finding no agreement, Harris decided to stand with the board.

"We very badly need a bond issue. There's no question about that," Harris said. "The infrastructure of the schools are coming apart. . . . In contrast, children go to malls that are super-slick. Their homes are nice. . . . This is Beverly Hills. Kids shouldn't have to go to shabby schools."

Board member AJ Willmer used the term "fast track" instead of rushed. The cash-strapped school district doesn't have much choice, he said. Maintenance on facilities has been put off for so long that waiting one more year could put educational programs in jeopardy.

Board members last week also appointed a five-member citizen's advisory committee to work with the architects. They plan to organize a series of meetings, probably at school sites, to get input from parents and residents on needed repairs, said committee chairman Joe Stabler.

"Sometimes parents will know things that may not be apparent to an observer," said Stabler, a Los Angeles-based general contractor. "They're there every day picking up children. You can never have enough eyes when you're trying to do modernization work."

The highest priority of the bond will be to bring buildings up to modern safety standards and into compliance with federal laws for handicapped accessibility, Stone said. Many of the buildings are more than 60 years old.

Although board members say the measure must be slightly vague to allow for flexibility, some voters are calling for a detailed description of what the money will be used for.

Jack Cohen, who worked to defeat the parcel tax in past elections, said voters who oppose the formation of a middle school, for example, might not vote for a measure that could pay for one.

Cohen vowed to go through the final proposal "with a fine-toothed comb" before deciding whether he will support it.

Failed Parcel Tax Attempts

The following chart shows the year in which parcel tax measures were put before Beverly Hills voters, the amount of the proposed tax and the percentage of yes votes. A two-thirds approval, or 66.66% of votes, is required to impose such a tax.

1987 $270 59% 1990 $250-750 66.61% 1991 $250-750 63.3%

Source: Beverly Hills Unified School District

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