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Schools: No More Excuses

November 08, 2002

Los Angeles voters have given local school planners one last chance to prove they aren't incompetent. With passage Tuesday of statewide Proposition 47 and local Measure K, Los Angeles Unified School District officials will be able to get their hands on billions of dollars to build new schools and upgrade old ones.

The last time the board got hold of so much construction money was 1997, when voters passed the $2.4-billion Proposition BB. As every student dodging spitballs in a classroom stuffed with 40 other kids can attest, district bureaucrats flubbed that windfall badly -- wasting money, tolerating delays and resisting the oversight that bond drafters tried to impose. This time district officials have no choice but to spend every penny as if it's the last one they'll have -- for it may well be.

Take hope, kids. After the worst of the Proposition BB bungling came to light, the school board hired a new superintendent, Roy Romer, who brought in a team of hard-knuckled construction managers -- folks who should have been on the job years ago. They review each project monthly, unkinking paperwork bottlenecks and dogging contractors who swore they'd have the drywall up by last week.

Before Measure K passed, the district had 80 new schools going, among the last of the BB projects. Five of those 80 have already opened their doors -- a good sign.

Measure K adds more than $3.3 billion to build as many as 120 more schools and fix up 79 others. Proposition 47, worth $13 billion, has a large pot set aside with the LAUSD's name on it.

Gambling that both would pass, district officials bought up hundreds of acres, much of the land in dense urban neighborhoods where children scramble for a seat in the classroom or ride a bus to a slightly less crowded school. So far, the district's bet looks like a smart one -- and a bold departure from its past fear of angering residents by forcing them to sell their homes or by building a school nearby.

After years of kissing off one bond measure after the next, voters in Los Angeles and other districts are now ponying up big bucks to build better schools. Measures similar to K, requiring 55% approval, passed in Norwalk, Hermosa Beach, Downey and elsewhere -- though Santa Monica's fell just short of the two-thirds majority vote required there. Even many voters without children and those whose kids have graduated apparently recognize that communities cannot long prosper without strong schools. In return for that generosity, school officials -- particularly those in Los Angeles -- have to deliver. No delays, no bungling, no excuses.

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