C.B. Smith never had any children to send to public schools, but he may hold the key to the passage of a $40-million Culver City bond measure designed to rescue the school district's deteriorating buildings.
Smith, 83, is president of the Culver City Senior Citizens Assn., a major seniors citizens group supporting Measure T to the delight of school bond boosters.
By gaining the vote of many senior citizens, backers of the school bond have won over those most likely to defeat the measure, which needs a two-thirds vote to pass. With fixed incomes and no school-age children, senior citizens traditionally vote against school bonds.
What won over them over in Culver City?
"All you've got to do is look at [the schools]," Smith said. "I don't know how they go on. When a kid is sitting with water dripping down through the roof on him, it's hard to inspire him."
Measure T supporters hope that Culver City homeowners will be willing to pay an average of $40 a year to help renovate and repair the aging campuses, most of which were built in the early 1950s.
"The physical plants of virtually all the schools are really in deplorable conditions," said Mayor Ed Wolkowitz, chairman of the Committee to Rebuild Our Schools. "The conditions are getting to the point that the Band Aid measures taken by the school district aren't making it. We're really at a critical point."
Wolkowitz's committee has no organized opposition and the support of the group that may matter the most.
The seniors citizens association not only endorsed the measure, but conducted tours of the crumbling schools and sent out letters to 2,900 members last week urging them to vote for Measure T.
"If we don't give the kids a chance, what's going to happen to this place when we leave here?" asked Smith, whose Measure T sign is erected in the front lawn of the home he built 56 years ago.
If the school bond doesn't pass, Wolkowitz said, money will have to be taken from educational programs for maintenance at the eight campuses. Although polls show the majority of Californians support education, an anti-tax climate lingering since Proposition 13 passed in 1978 has held school bonds at bay in recent years, with many measures falling just short of the necessary two-thirds majority.
Five years ago, Culver City voters defeated a $98 parcel tax that would have supplemented the school district's operating budget.