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The Region

O.C. Schools Seek to Upgrade Facilities

Education: New rule making it easier to pass bond measures prompts seven districts to place proposals on ballot.

January 02, 2002|JERRY HICKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Teachers and parents in the Anaheim City School District would love to end the staggered scheduling that has many students arriving in shifts and shuffling between classes to make limited seating work for everyone.

That's one reason the district is seeking a $111-million bond measure, despite the fact that a similar effort failed a few years ago with a 55% yes vote. Another reason: A change in election rules means that same percentage now would be a winning majority.

Until this year, school bonds required a two-thirds majority from the voters. But Proposition 39, passed by them last year, reduced that to 55%.

In fact, the new rule has prompted seven Orange County districts to place bond measures, totaling $731.6 million, on the March 5 ballot.

Bonds will be sought by three elementary school systems, two high school districts, a unified school district and the North Orange Community College District, which includes Fullerton and Cypress colleges.

If all the bond measures pass, that would mean more than $1 billion for school construction and repair work because all the districts would qualify for some matching state money.

"We're confident the public wants good schools, and our kids deserve it," said Gary Rutherford, superintendent of the Huntington Beach City School District.

Last summer, a $30-million bond issue for Rutherford's schools failed with 62% approval. Now the district is retooling its proposal and will try again in March.

Part of the seven districts' bond money would go for new facilities to house growing enrollment. But for many older schools, long-delayed repairs are in order.

"We've got classrooms with just one electrical outlet," Rutherford said. "That won't accommodate today's teaching methods, where you need plenty of places to plug in computers."

In some parts of the county, though, the number of school bond measures could make voters balk. Some voters in Fullerton and Anaheim will face several bond issues on the same ballot.

The bond in Huntington Beach would cost voters $16 annually for each $100,000 of assessed property valuation. But Anaheim voters are being asked to support three bonds--for a total of $78.50 above their current tax for every $100,000 of assessed valuation--for the city schools, the high school district and the North Orange County Community College District. Fullerton residents must also vote on three bond measures, for a total of $68.25 per $100,000.

School officials are aware that some voters might bristle at the lineup of bond measures.

"But we don't have a choice; we need the money," said Cameron McCune, superintendent of the Fullerton School District, which has nearly 20 elementary schools.

The Anaheim Union High School District isn't taking chances. Volunteers there have already conducted telephone campaigns to lobby voters and make them aware that the issue is on the March ballot.

Opposition groups in Fullerton and Anaheim have filed campaign statements against the bonds, which will go out with the sample ballots. In Huntington Beach, five people signed a statement opposing the bond measure.

In Anaheim, a group called Homeowners Maintaining Their Environment wrote in its campaign statement that taxpayers should not have to pay for mismanagement by school leaders.

"Giving these wasteful school administrators more of our money is not the answer. . . . For years, funds that could have been spent on building maintenance were used instead to hire more administrative personnel and give fat pay increases to nonteaching staff members," the statement reads.

Opponents of the bond measures could not be reached for comment.

Until Proposition 13 in 1978, school districts did not need voter approval for bonds. Their boards had the power to impose tax hikes. But Proposition 13 changed that and led to the two-thirds majority requirement for any tax increases.

Here is a look at the seven districts and how they want to spend construction bond money.

* The Anaheim City School District seeks $111 million for an ambitious 10-year plan that includes four new schools to alleviate crowding and eliminate staggered schedules. It also would construct two-story classroom buildings at Horace Mann and Abraham Lincoln elementary schools, two of its older campuses.

The district has more than 22,000 students in schools designed to hold 11,000. It gets by with portable classroom units and staggered classes.

The district's Sunkist Elementary, built for 500 students, now has an enrollment of 1,200. The campus' 57 regular teachers share 33 classrooms, including eight portables. The school operates year round on a staggered daily schedule.

Because there is no cafeteria, students pick up their lunches from a serving table outside, rain or shine, and carry the food to whichever classroom is empty at the time. For assemblies, the children carry their classroom seats to an asphalt area outdoors.

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