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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Don't Let the Schools Down

October 13, 2002

Was March 5 a mirage in Orange County's school-funding desert? Or will residents in a handful of Orange County school districts pick up where voters left off when they passed six bond issues that will pour $490 million into badly needed construction projects?

We noted in March that the six school district bond issues will be used to repair, renovate and replace school buildings that opened their doors well before Disneyland's since-retired submarine fleet first set sail.

But a half dozen successful bond measures aren't strong enough medicine to remedy problems that have accumulated over the decades. More must be done in other districts where students are sitting in crowded classrooms and searching for a functioning bathroom.

There is evidence that voters statewide are reconsidering California's commitment to education. Between 1980 and 2000, slightly more than half of California's school bond measures won passage. In March, 13 of 14 community college districts, including the North Orange County Community College District (which includes Cypress and Fullerton colleges) passed bond measures.

That success rate is one reason several local districts put bond issues on the November ballot. But timing is only part of the story. Rancho Santiago Community College District (which includes Santa Ana and Santiago Canyon colleges) is asking voters to approve Measure E, a $337-million bond measure, because it needs to fill gaping holes in its infrastructure. Rancho Santiago's campus was never completed; at Santa Ana, students huddle in their cars when it's rainy or cold because the campus has neither a library nor a student center.

It's easy to assume that the wave of homes still popping up in Tustin is proof that the city is relatively young. But aging school buildings are the driving force behind Measure G, an $80-million bond issue for the Tustin Unified School District. The district built 20 schools between 1956 and 1969. So there's a lengthy list of needed repairs that includes leaky roofs, aging air-conditioning units and antiquated water pipes that render bathrooms and drinking fountains inoperative.

We won't know until next month whether the springtime victories were simply March Madness or a significant shift in how residents view their responsibilities toward funding a viable public education. But students obviously will benefit if it proves to be the latter.

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