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DECISION '94 : School Officials Delighted With Overwhelming Approval of Prop. K


Santa Monica and Malibu school officials were elated Wednesday after voters in the school district linking the two communities overwhelmingly agreed to increase the local parcel tax to $68 a year from its current $58.

Proposition K received 74% of the vote in Tuesday's balloting--well over the two-thirds' majority needed to pass the measure, which is expected to boost school revenues by $300,000 a year.

"There were times when we knew it would be a struggle, given the economic climate," said Neil Schmidt, the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District superintendent. "I had hoped to get 65%, but we didn't expect 74%."

Tuesday's voting also decided four seats on the Santa Monica/Malibu school board and four on the Santa Monica Community College Board of Trustees. But perhaps the most closely watched local school decision was the vote on the parcel tax, which would have expired had Proposition K not passed.

The results, Schmidt said, underscore the importance local residents place on high-quality schooling--and the district's duty to provide it.

"So often, people say public education is so critical, but you rarely see action," he said. "With the passage of Proposition K, the responsibility is now placed on the school district to follow through."

The new parcel tax will be levied on Santa Monica and Malibu property owners for six years starting July 1, 1995. Schmidt said new revenues from the $10 increase will be used for school maintenance, library improvements, and purchases of computers and other technology for the schools.

School board member Pam Brady, who was reelected to a second term, said at one point she was concerned that Proposition K would fail. She said she was amazed that the parcel tax measure passed by such an overwhelming margin.

"The community is to be commended for understanding where priorities are," said Brady. "The community came together for these kids, and that's wonderful."

In the Santa Monica/Malibu school board race, both incumbents running for reelection--Brady and Brenda Gottfried--won new four-year terms. The other two seats on the ballot were open to newcomers because board incumbents Patricia Hoffman and Michael Hill chose not to seek reelection. Those seats were won by Julia Brownley, a management consultant, and teacher Terri L. Cohen.

Gottfried and Brownley were backed by Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR). A third candidate supported by SMRR, Harlan Dorin, finished fifth.

Brownley said one of her priorities is to see that the district completes its ongoing school rebuilding program, which has fallen behind schedule. The project is being financed by a $75-million bond issue passed in 1990. Televising board meetings, Brownley said, is another goal.

In the wake of the passage of Proposition 187, Schmidt, the superintendent, said the district has been advised to "hold tight until we get direction from the courts and the state." Schmidt added that he's confident that student unrest won't be a problem in the Santa Monica/Malibu schools.

"Of course, we'll have angry students," said Schmidt. "But this will also be an opportunity to learn how to challenge that frustration and take political action."

Meanwhile, some of the board members elected Tuesday expressed dismay at the passage of Proposition 187, which would deny public education and non-emergency health care to illegal immigrants.

"I understand people were trying to send a message, but inadvertently hurting children is wrong," said board member Brady. "I recognize there is a problem (with illegal immigration), but it isn't our job to become the immigration enforcers. We have enough to do."

In the contest for the Santa Monica Community College board, only one of the two incumbents seeking reelection--Carole Currey--won a new four-year term. Incumbent Ralph R. Villani finished sixth in the race for four seats. The two other incumbents whose seats were up for election--Alfred Quinn and Colin Petrie--decided not to seek new terms.

The three newcomers to win seats on the board were Nancy Cattell and Dorothy Ehrhart-Morrison, both retired educators backed by SMRR, and Herbert Roney, a former administrator at Santa Monica College.

The three new trustees said they all agreed with Currey on the board's primary task: finding a new college president to replace Richard Moore, who recently became president of the Community College of Southern Nevada.

Times staff writer Adrian Maher contributed to this story.

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