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Using Bond Funds to Replace Existing Schools

August 22, 1993

It was never a secret that funds from school bonds authorized by Proposition ES in 1990 might be used to replace existing school facilities ("Merits of Using Bond Funds for New School Debated," Westside, Aug. 5). I served on the community committee that worked with former Supt. Eugene Tucker in 1989-90 to study the facilities improvement needs of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. Community leaders from all the interest groups in Santa Monica and Malibu, from the Chamber of Commerce to the foes of development, agreed that the building program should be used to bring our schools into compliance with modern safety and educational standards.

From its inception, the ES reconstruction program was designed to ensure that equity among facilities was based on outcome, not on dollars. Therefore, funds were not allocated among campuses based on the number of students, or the square footage of that school. Instead, budgets were developed based on how much it would take to bring each school's facilities up to a common standard.

The buildings at both John Muir Elementary School and the magnet alternative school, SMASH, are actually unusable and condemned due to the deterioration and damage caused by years of deferred maintenance. The location of Muir at a dangerous intersection has long been a concern for those who care about the health and learning conditions for kids in the public schools.

To say, as your article did, that "spending the bond money on the new school would mean improvement projects at more than seven other local schools would have to be postponed" is simply not true. If the new school is not built, an equivalent amount of bond money would have to be spent to rehabilitate SMASH and Muir.

I also take exception to your reporter's characterization of the school board's approval of the Ocean Park Education Plan as having been done "quietly." The plan has been debated by over 100 attendees at each of the last three annual Ocean Park Community Congresses, as well as at community meetings. At each meeting, the overwhelming majority of people in attendance rejected the arguments of critics of the plan, and supported the new school, even when it meant development at the Muir site.

Those who criticize the school board's plan to provide a new facility for the two schools located in Ocean Park need to think about the impact of their actions on the 600 students who will attend those schools. The rash actions of four or five lawsuit-happy opponents could deny an equal education to hundreds of kids who deserve the same safe and healthy learning environment as every other child in our public school system.

ABBY HAIGHT ARNOLD

Santa Monica

Arnold is chair of the ES Oversight Committee for Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District . *

In Ocean Park there is a story about disparate parent, faculty and community groups who have conducted a rigorously open development planning process for a new school. The story should talk about how the education plan that was forged over two years ago has maintained commitments to preserve Los Amigos Park and to engage the community and neighbors in all aspects of the design process; how neighbors, faculty and parents meet twice monthly to discuss the designs and solve problems; how these same groups are now struggling with choosing how to absorb the same budget cuts that all the district has mandated for all other projects; and how, when the school opens in 1995 the quality of education at John Muir Elementary and SMASH will attract more Santa Monica families back to the public school system.

Instead, the L.A. Times fell prey to the story fostered by those who have consistently demonstrated a fear of change. Having failed to undermine this project on false claims of selling off park space, your sources have now turned to false claims that the new school represents financial mismanagement.

The cost of the new school will be approximately the same as reconstruction of the two campuses at John Muir and SMASH. Priority reconstruction throughout the district is not affected by the new school in Ocean Park. In fact, the new school is having to absorb the same reductions in budget as every other project. Consolidation of John Muir and SMASH at one location permits their former campuses to be reused for district programs that are currently ill-housed or homeless.

Unlike many public projects that face cost overruns from delay, indecision and capitulation, this project has proceeded on budget and on schedule. The process of developing this school has fostered in Ocean Park that rare union between families, community and educators that is now recognized as one of the essential ingredients of revitalized public education. By missing all of that, the L.A. Times story does a disservice to the Ocean Park community and education in Santa Monica.

JOHN S. GIVEN

Santa Monica

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