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Campaign Backs Bond for Schools

Education and business activists hope voters will pass a $12.3-billion March ballot measure to repair campuses and build new ones.

December 19, 2003|Duke Helfand | Times Staff Writer

Education activists, parents and business leaders launched a campaign Thursday to win voter approval of a $12.3-billion state bond on the March ballot to upgrade and build new school and college facilities across California.

The bond measure, Proposition 55, will be on the same March ballot as a separate $15-billion bond to help pay off the state's current budget shortfall.

Voters who live within the boundaries of the Los Angeles Unified School District, meanwhile, will decide an additional $3.8-billion school construction and repair bond on that ballot.

Proposition 55 backers called their measure an investment in California's schoolchildren, many of whom attend dilapidated campuses with leaky roofs, faulty plumbing, broken toilets and other maintenance problems.

They predict that voters won't revolt against Proposition 55 even though the ballot will be crowded with many expensive measures and a similar $13-billion state school bond won approval just last year.

"We are confident that irrespective of what the ballot may look like in March, California voters remain willing to invest in education and the future of our state and our children," Carla Nino, president of the California State PTA, told a news conference Thursday at a Hollywood elementary school.

Opponents argue that the bond and its interest payments would increase the state's huge debt and make it difficult for government to respond to natural disasters and recessions. In a ballot statement against it, state Sen. Rico Oller (R-San Andreas) wrote: "Today's schoolchildren will still be paying for this bond long after their own children have graduated."

Leaders of the Proposition 55 campaign have assembled a diverse coalition of supporters, including the California Teachers Assn., the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Taxpayers Assn. and other groups.

The $12.3-billion state general obligation bond would raise $10 billion to build more K-12 public schools and repair old ones, while providing $920 million for California community college facilities. The University of California and the California State University systems would each receive $690 million.

Proposition 55 would provide matching funds for local school bonds in districts around the state. The Los Angeles school system, for example, is anticipating as much as $1.5 billion from the state bond issue to match its own spending for 50 new schools intended to help return existing overcrowded campuses from multitrack, year-round calendars to a traditional school year.

Proposition 55's backers said they would spread their message through local chambers of commerce, PTAs and unions, but they did not offer further details of their strategy. Some of the state's leading business groups, foreseeing a huge infusion of jobs and investment in the California economy if the measure passes, are lending a hand.

Larry McCarthy, president of the California Taxpayers Assn., said that financial constraints built into the bond measure -- including independent audits and cost controls -- gave him confidence to support it.

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