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Yes on L.A. School Bond

October 17, 2002

Hamilton High School's main building, with its ornate brickwork and cupola from the 1930s, has starred in countless television dramas. But inside the school, students have to dodge a trash barrel stationed smack in the center of the main hall to catch drips from the school's air-conditioning pipes. Masking tape holds ceiling tiles in place. And with enrollment topping 3,000, portable classrooms have gobbled up space on the edges of Hamilton's quadrangle, making this Pico-Robertson campus seem that much more crowded.

Measure K wouldn't airbrush away all of Hamilton's many infrastructure problems, but it would help a lot. The $3.35-billion bond would allow the Los Angeles Unified School District to build 120 new schools and undertake major upgrades and additions at 79 existing schools, such as a new classroom building for Hamilton.

The Times endorses Measure K because as enrollment continues to grow, a chair for every student will soon be hard to come by unless the district continues to build.

Districtwide, 15,200 students already ride a bus out of their neighborhoods to less crowded schools. Some travel to Gledhill Elementary School in North Hills, which has added 14 portable classrooms in just five years.

To Gledhill, Measure K would mean a new two-story classroom building, replacing some bungalows. It would also mean a coat of asphalt on a playground so riddled with cracks that teachers on recess duty bandage even more skinned knees than usual.

The real question is not whether local children need the new classrooms, repaved yards and science labs that Measure K would fund -- they absolutely do -- but whether the LAUSD can manage the money after badly bungling Proposition BB, the $2.4-billion bond that voters approved in 1997. Half of the projects promised in that bond are now completed and hundreds of schools, including Gledhill, got air conditioning, termite repairs and new paint, but the district also wasted millions.

The Belmont Learning Complex fiasco -- the district stopped construction of this school in 1999 because of safety concerns after sinking in about $150 million -- finally shamed officials into hiring the professional construction managers it should have had all along. That team is now in place and on top of the 80 new schools being erected, the last BB projects. Five of these schools have already opened, and the rest are largely on track. Measure K would build on these successes.

Proposition BB was never intended to pay for all the fixes that Los Angeles schools so badly need. Measure K wouldn't either, and it may be a hard sell to property owners who will be on the hook for up to $5 a month per $100,000 assessed valuation.

But most Los Angeles children still attend crumbling and overcrowded schools. Voters began a long-overdue modernization drive by passing Proposition BB. District officials have demonstrated they have learned a lot since then. Voters should stay the course by saying yes to Measure K.

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