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Dunce Cap for Fund-Raising Plan : Community colleges board needs to go back to school on this one

June 09, 1996

If ever there is need for a civics lesson on how to win public support for raising funds, don't look to the recent activities of the Los Angeles Community College District. But if you're looking for a textbook case of what not to do. . .

Officials of the system had good intentions when they ferreted out a little-known state law that allows college trustees to create a so-called landscaping and lighting assessment district to raise money. Funds can be used for various capital improvements but not to add classes or make other academic improvements. And an assessment can be imposed without voter approval.

The community colleges, strapped because of cutbacks in state funding and enrollment declines, proposed a $12 annual assessment on 770,000 single-family homes, plus assessments on rental and commercial properties, and mailed out notices to that effect. The 20-year assessment, which would raise about $21 million annually, would fund bonds for $205 million in districtwide improvements.

The problem is in some of the questionable and even frivolous "improvements," such as a $2-million scoreboard for Southwest College. L.A. City College wants $54 million to buy land and develop a park on the site. East Los Angeles wants $20 million for a stadium parking structure. Pierce College is looking for $6.9 million to build a 2,500-seat equestrian complex.

No wonder the seven-member Community College Board of Trustees recently faced five hours of angry complaints at a hearing at Valley College in Van Nuys. The members are likely to get another earful at a hearing Wednesday at Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

The majority of the college board reportedly still favors the assessment. If so, the trustees should eliminate the questionable capital projects and concentrate instead on expenditures for better campus safety and existing facilities needed for learning--not for equestrian venues, parks and scoreboards.

The trustees began with a proposal for a $4-per-house assessment. They need to abandon the boneheaded scheme that ultimately developed and go back to the drawing board. Otherwise they will jeopardize the system's credibility and future ability to raise funds.

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