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Ventura County Perspective

Schools Need to Tell Voters What They'd Be Paying For

Boards should follow Conejo district and explain bonds

September 28, 1997

Schools are good.

Well-maintained, air-conditioned, wired-for-modern-technology schools are better.

Schools that give our communities' children the finest education possible, pushing them toward excellence in everything from basic academics to inspired creativity to well-grounded adulthood and active citizenship, are best of all.

Most taxpayers can agree on that much, even if they don't have kids of their own in the classroom right now. So the five school-bond issues that Ventura County voters will face in the Nov. 4 election should, in theory, enjoy substantial support.

But when voters are asked to take on a total of nearly $200 million in debt for 25 years or more, it is not unreasonable to ask just what the money will be used for and why they need so much.

After some initial reluctance, leaders of the Conejo Valley Unified School District finally came up with a school-by-school list detailing how the district plans to spend its share. The other districts pushing bond issues should hasten to do the same.

Conejo district is asking for $97 million, the largest local school-bond measure ever put before voters in Ventura County. If approved, it would cost each Thousand Oaks taxpayer an extra $24.96 a year per $100,000 of assessed value on their homes.

About two-thirds of the proceeds would be used to modernize schools--upgrading old gas and water lines, repairing roofs, repaving parking lots, rehabbing restrooms. More would be spent to build 30 new classrooms and four gyms, to add a pool and tennis courts at Westlake High School and to move or modernize Conejo Valley High, the district's continuation school.

School district officials came up with the $97-million figure by adding up the projected cost of major needs at each school, which totaled close to $120 million. They then subtracted $30 million in anticipated state matching funds in hopes of improving their odds at the polls. Because even in Thousand Oaks--affluent, kid-friendly and fiercely proud of its schools--a triple-digit bond measure seemed like a long shot.

Likewise, the question of how much the market would bear helped shape the requests of four other districts, encouraged by multimillion-dollar school-bond victories in half a dozen Ventura County districts since last November.

Despite having been shot down at the ballot box four times this decade, Pleasant Valley Elementary in Camarillo is seeking $49 million, and a survey shows it has a good chance of prevailing this time. It will help that the district is being very open with voters about its plans for the money.

Rio Elementary School District in Oxnard is asking for $20 million, Moorpark Unified for $16 million and Ojai Unified for $15 million.

In each case, success will depend on two-thirds of the voters being convinced that the money is truly needed and will be well spent.

The best way to win that confidence is to show voters what they are being asked to spring for, in detail.

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