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$3.35-Billion School Bond Hits Ballot

Education: L.A. Unified trustees think big in unanimously asking voters to 'show their support' by funding an ambitious set of goals.

July 10, 2002|SOLOMON MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to place a $3.35-billion school construction bond on the November ballot, setting the stage for a high-stakes campaign to win the electorate's approval.

School officials say the money would fund 120 new schools, expand 79 existing campuses, cease most busing programs and remove portable classrooms from playgrounds across the district. If the bond passes Nov. 5, each property owner in the Los Angeles Unified School District will pay additional taxes of $60 per every $100,000 of assessed value every year for 25 years.

After Tuesday's vote, schools Supt. Roy Romer declared: "It's a great day. Now we can go to the public and say, 'This is what we're going to do. We have a clear and very precise plan on how we're going to spend this money.' "

The vote followed a succession of speakers who supported the construction bond, including community activist Constance Rice, who was one of the most outspoken critics of how the district managed the $2.4 billion from Proposition BB, which voters passed in 1997 to repair and build schools.

"During the last bond the district didn't have the professional staff to pull this off. They didn't have the information; there was no facilities staff up to the job," Rice said. But L.A. Unified's ability to recently submit applications for nearly $1 billion in state funds for school construction within 18 months has proved to her that the "district is ready for prime time."

With the board's vote, the measure, which will require 55% approval, will be added to the fall ballot, which is already crowded with proposals for San Fernando Valley secession and a $13-billion state school construction bond. Two parallel bond campaigns--one a district-funded, nonpartisan informational campaign, the other a privately funded political campaign-- are already underway.

At the last minute, board members unanimously approved a proposal by trustee David Tokofsky to increase the bond issue by $50 million to fund early childhood education centers, bringing the total for that purpose to $80 million.

"This is really momentous," said board President Caprice Young. "I've said for a long time that the people of Los Angeles care about their schools, and in November they'll have an opportunity to show their support."

In other matters, the board awarded a $2.9-million contract to fund environmental studies and engineering designs for the half-built Belmont Learning Complex.

After spending $154 million, the district abandoned the downtown high school more than two years ago because of concerns about methane and other hazardous gases discovered underneath the site. The school board, persuaded that the school could be made safe, later revived the project.

A team led by a group of Latino activists and Matt Construction is charged with completing the environmental reviews within six months. If the site passes muster, work could begin by year's end.

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