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Election 2002

State, L.A. School Bonds Head for Passage

Both measures enjoy healthy margins. In Los Angeles, Supt. Romer celebrates the victory.

November 06, 2002|Solomon Moore | Times Staff Writer

In an endorsement of greater spending to relieve overcrowding of schools, voters across California and in the Los Angeles Unified School District were giving healthy margins of approval Tuesday to massive education bond issues that will fuel years of campus construction projects.

The statewide measure, Proposition 47, will provide $13.5 billion for construction and renovation of K-12 and university campuses around California.

In the Los Angeles school district, an overwhelming percentage of voters were favoring Measure K, a $3.3-billion construction bond issue. Combined with its share of the state bond funds, L.A. Unified hopes to finish 80 new schools and 79 renovation projects, and to begin work on 40 new campuses.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin was pleased that Proposition 47 was headed toward passage. "I think this shows a good trend," she said. "It looks like the voters are going to give California's children and students what they need: clean, safe, well-lighted schools."

Roy Romer, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, was jubilant. "This is a tremendous statement from L.A. for educating children," Romer said. "You know that there have been a lot of problems in the district in the past, but this says we want these schools built and we trust you to do it.

"We'll begin tomorrow with very thorough plans for implementation, and we're going to really consult closely with the community on the siting of each of these schools," he added.

Measure K needed 55% of the votes to pass, while Proposition 47 needed a simple majority.

The bonds are critical to school districts and universities because other funding options are so limited. Proposition 13 sharply curtailed school districts' tax base, and developers have curtailed efforts to make them pay fees to fund school construction. State law requires school districts to attempt to pass local propositions and use their own funds before they can levy fees on developers.

Supporters viewed Measure K as a way to redeem L.A. Unified's reputation. The district faced harsh criticism over its handling of Proposition BB, a $2.4-billion bond measure passed in 1997, and eventually acknowledged that poor management had caused the district to miscalculate by $600 million the amount of school repair work it could perform.

Backers of Measure K hoped that voters were getting past such district missteps as the Belmont Learning Complex, a $175-million downtown high school that was left unfinished after toxic fumes were discovered beneath the property. That campus is now being studied for ways to safely complete it.

Backers of the two bond issues had raised $11 million from unions, developers, university foundations and others.

Organized opposition to the measures was scarce. A few legislators and members of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. said the state bond was too skewed toward urban districts and both measures were too expensive. Interest payments for both measures over 30 years will cost as much as the bonds themselves. The Los Angeles measure will raise annual property taxes by $60 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Even with such staggering amounts of money from the bonds, it is unlikely that the measures will completely remedy California's and L.A.'s overcrowded schools, educators say.

School districts throughout the state report they will need $20 billion to build enough facilities to house 1.2 million K-12 students now in overcrowded schools, according to the legislative analyst's office. The bond issues will set the stage for similar measures two years from now. Backers of Measure K say they are planning to place a measure on the spring 2004 ballot to create seats for an additional 200,000 students by 2017.

State legislators have already arranged to put a $12-billion school construction bond on the 2004 ballot.

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