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Bond for Moorpark Schools Sorely Needed, Backers Say

Ventura County

Finances: Officials looking to March vote cite crowded campuses, portable classrooms and rising enrollment.

December 27, 2001|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Moorpark's nine schools have more than 100 portable classrooms.

The high school gym is not big enough to hold an assembly of all students.

And in five years, enrollment in the 7,800-student district is expected to swell by 21%--a demand that cannot be met at the already crowded campuses.

These are the realities Moorpark Unified School District officials face as they work to win community support for a $33-million school bond measure on the March 5 ballot. Most of the funds would finance a new school for kindergarten through eighth-graders and new classrooms to replace aging, bulky portables.

"Passing this bond is an absolute must in Moorpark," Supt. Frank DePasquale said. "Our priority is to get a school built and get kids in good, permanent classrooms."

It's familiar territory for school officials in the small, east Ventura County city.

In recent years two multimillion-dollar bond measures failed. In November 1997, a bond lost the needed 66.6% margin by about 50 votes. In April 1998, a measure fell short by 200 ballots.

Other Bond Measures Will Crowd Ballot

This time, thanks to a new California law, the bond needs just 55% of the vote to win.

But there are other challenges: The same ballot will include a $356-million bond measure by the Ventura County Community College District as well as a state park bond.

"We're still going to run a very tough campaign," DePasquale said. "If it doesn't pass, we will go out again in November. There's just no other way for us to get this work done."

As the upscale suburb continues to grow--there are at least five home and apartment projects on the horizon--space in the district's elementary and middle schools is increasingly tight.

At the same time, state school bond money that funded construction of all of Moorpark's existing schools has become more difficult for smaller districts to obtain, DePasquale said.

Without a new campus in the next few years, officials said, the district may have to consider implementing year-round or split school-day schedules to accommodate new students.

"If we're going to have quality programs, we're going to have to start considering draconian measures." said school board member Greg Barker, who saw the two previous bonds fail by thin margins. "We're not at that point yet, but the idea is in a couple or three years, we will be there."

Before the bond proposal even gets to voters, DePasquale said, officials will continue to negotiate with developer Pardee Homes for the 22-acre site needed for the new K-8 school. Preliminary plans call for the campus to be a "choice" or magnet school, which means it would have an instructional theme and be open to students throughout the district.

The bond, which officials estimate would cost the typical Moorpark homeowner about $8 a month, would also fund a variety of smaller projects throughout the district, DePasquale said.

Those projects include a multipurpose room at Peach Hill Elementary School, new playground equipment and roof repairs at several schools, a two-story classroom building at the district's continuation school, $1 million in new technology wiring, and new classrooms for Moorpark High School students taking classes at Moorpark College.

Also, passage of the bond would free up money to complete a much-needed gym expansion project at the high school.

Although there appears no organized opposition to the bond in Moorpark, the Libertarian Party of Ventura County filed a ballot argument against the measure, arguing bonds increase the costs of government projects.

Kickoff Rally for Volunteers Planned

But Ron LaGuardia, father of a kindergartner at Walnut Canyon Elementary School and chairman of the district's bond campaign committee, said he is confident people will vote for the measure once they learn the facts.

"It's a matter of education," LaGuardia said. "Are you willing to let the schools become less than the outstanding schools they are or will you pay to maintain the excellence?"

From now until March, volunteers and district officials will back the campaign by calling voters, sending mailings and meeting with community groups.

A volunteer kickoff rally is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 15 at the United Methodist Church on Flory Street.

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