A flurry of bond proposals that would pump more than $730 million of construction funds into six Orange County school districts and the North Orange County Community College District were all edging toward approval Tuesday, thanks to a new state law lowering the threshold of votes needed for passage.
Previously, districts needed to get a two-thirds majority for approval of bond measures. That changed in 2000, after voters statewide passed Proposition 39. Now districts need just 55% of the vote to pass a bond. The change has spawned a spate of bond elections statewide.
"In the past, it was the tyranny of the minority," said Dennis Smith, superintendent of the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District. "It took two yes votes for every no vote and became so onerous that people stopped trying."
"We're going to see improved public schools as a result of this," he said of Proposition 39.
Late Tuesday, his district appeared headed toward approval of $102 million in bonds that will pay for two new elementary schools, a middle school, a high school and improvements at most of its 31 campuses.
When Anaheim City School District officials went to voters with a $48-million bond measure in 1998, they lost, despite winning 56% of the vote. Tuesday, however, a $111-million bond measure was poised to pass. District officials say they plan to build five new schools and make improvements to most of the 23 campuses. The district is one of the most overcrowded in the state.
District spokeswoman Suzi Brown said the change in the percentage of votes needed has made bond measures "a hurdle that most districts can now make it over."
She said voters are also more willing to approve bond measures because the new state law puts caps on how much districts can ask for and requires a local bond oversight committees made up of community members.
Elsewhere in the county, the Anaheim Union High School District was heading toward passage of a $132-million bond to build a new junior high school and for modernization projects, and Fullerton Joint Union High School District was looking to receive $67.9 million in bonds for new buildings at each of its six campuses and improvements at existing ones.
The Fullerton School District was apparently headed to victory in its efforts to pass a $49.7-million measure for a new elementary school and facilities upgrades.
The Huntington Beach City School District, which wants to make improvements at its 10 campuses, was looking likely to pass a $30-million bond measure.
And finally, the community college district, with campuses in Fullerton and Cypress, has a $239-million bond measure for various construction projects, including new libraries and improved parking.
The bonds are paid with increased property taxes in the districts and range from $18.41 per $100,000 of assessed value in the college district to $32.20 per $100,000 in Placentia-Yorba Linda.
The measures that pass will qualify for matching funds from a statewide bond measure likely to go to voters in November. If the state fails to pass its bond or if the money runs out, districts will have to scale back or delay their projects.