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College District Seeks Bonds, Another Might

July 31, 2002|JEFF GOTTLIEB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Encouraged by recent successes elsewhere in the state, a central Orange County community college district will ask voters to approve a bond measure for upgrading campuses and acquiring land. A second district was expected to follow suit tonight.

Rancho Santiago Community College district trustees voted unanimously Monday night to ask constituents to vote on a $337-million bond issue in November. Coast Community College District trustees will consider seeking $370 million.

"We're literally bursting at the seams as we have a combination of new growth in east Orange County and a significant number of people realizing that community colleges are a great bargain for their children," John Hanna, president of Rancho Santiago's board of trustees, said Tuesday.

California voters two years ago lowered the threshold for passage of bond measures to 55%. Previously, two-thirds of a school district's voters needed to endorse the plan.

From 1980 to 2000, slightly more than half of school bond measures won passage.

In March, voters passed bond issues in 13 of 14 community college districts around the state. Among them was North Orange County Community College District, which includes Cypress and Fullerton colleges.

Both Rancho Santiago and Coast plan to use the bonds to construct new buildings, renovate old ones and rewire buildings, making it easier to hook up new technology, district officials said.

Rancho Santiago officials said the money also would fund planned expansion of the district's two campuses, Santa Ana and Santiago Canyon colleges.

Coast Community College District includes Orange Coast, Golden West and Coastline community colleges in west Orange County.

If the measures are endorsed by voters on Nov. 5, property owners would pay about $25 per $100,000 of assessed value.

The two districts are facing problems similar to those of community colleges across California--a marked increase in students, an aging infrastructure and too little funding from the state for capital improvements.

By the end of the decade, the state's community colleges are expected to enroll an additional 525,000 students.

They need $13.8 billion for renovation and new facilities, said Frederick E. Harris, director of college finance and facilities planning for the state community college chancellor's office.

The November ballot measure will be the first Rancho Santiago has taken to voters since the district was created in 1971.

Hanna said a district poll of 604 potential voters in May found that 61% would support the measure.

If Coast trustees agree to seek a bond measure, it will be the first time the district has sought such public funding since the 1960s.

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