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Voters to Decide Issues in 85 L.A. County Jurisdictions

November 02, 2003|Jean Merl | Times Staff Writer

Should cyclists get their own oceanfront bike path through Hermosa Beach? Will Malibu voters sign off on a complicated open-space-or-development pact?

And will three local school districts get the tax increases they say they need to add or upgrade classroom facilities?

These are among the questions awaiting some voters as they go to the polls Tuesday in local elections throughout Los Angeles County. Among the 85 local jurisdictions holding elections this week are 55 school districts and eight community college districts.

For many, concerns over tight finances dominate the campaigning, including in Manhattan Beach, where the high-scoring district faces big financial troubles.

There, Teri Greene and Tracey Windes, the two school board incumbents seeking reelection, are facing eight challengers and taking heat from angry, frustrated voters. Among the challengers are educators Tecia Barton and Bill Cooper, who are backed by the local teachers union -- the same one that last spring helped elect a new school board majority in neighboring Redondo Beach.

Other challengers are insurance broker Craig Brown, community activist and retired certified public accountant Bill Eisen, stockbroker Jeffrey Horn, parent and school volunteer Amy Howorth, attorney Stuart Johnson, and former board member LeRoy Nelson.

The kindergarten-through-12th-grade Manhattan Beach Unified School District has struggled over the last year to close gaps in its budget, in part by asking families in the affluent community to contribute money; the amount suggested was $600 per student. Donations rolled in, allowing the board to rescind some cuts, but voters in the spring turned down the district's request for a parcel tax aimed at providing a longer-term solution.

There was more bad news recently when officials disclosed that cost overruns had used up all the money from a construction bond measure, leaving the district struggling to find a way to complete a student services building and forcing it to scrap two other promised projects for Mira Costa High School. The board recently hired a consultant to find out what went wrong with the building program.

If there were prizes for the most seats to be decided, the hands-down winner would be the Compton Unified School District, which just last year was released from special state oversight.

With three vacancies on its seven-member board, the district is asking voters to fill the three unexpired terms -- each with about two years left on it -- and to decide who should occupy the three seats up for regular, four-year terms. Thirteen candidates are running for the unexpired terms and 15, including two incumbents, for the full terms.

The vacancies occurred when Isadore Hall and Barbara Calhoun were elected to the Compton City Council last spring and Basil Kimbrew resigned late last year after pleading no contest to a charge that he had lied about his address during the 1999 election.

Much is riding on the election in Compton, where the school district is still struggling to repair a reputation shattered during a 1993 state takeover because of high budget deficits and student test scores that ranked among the lowest in California. The district regained control of its affairs in December but suffered another blow in August, when Centennial High School was stripped of its academic accreditation.

Three other districts are seeking to ease overcrowding and money troubles by asking voters to raise taxes.

The El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera wants approval to issue $49.5 million in bonds for campus upgrades, including plumbing repairs, air-conditioning, libraries and technology. The Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District in northern Los Angeles County would use a $13.1-million bond measure to build classrooms, science labs, restrooms, a library, gymnasium and other facilities. Both measures require the support of 55% of voters.

Voters in the Santa Clarita Valley's Castaic Union School District will consider a parcel tax measure that would raise $480,000 annually to prevent class-size increases and protect music, literacy and computer programs in the face of anticipated cutbacks in state education funding.

As a result of state cuts last year, the K-8 district laid off five clerks and teachers' aides. Meanwhile, the district is bracing for more students from a 3,000-home subdivision that will be built soon in Castaic, Supt. Beverly Silsbee said.

However, Measure B faces a higher hurdle than the school bond measures; it must get two-thirds of the ballots cast. Officials worry that tax-wary voters will not say yes to adding $48 annually for four years to the tax bill of each property in the district.

"We know that this is an uphill battle and it very well may not pass, given the political climate," Silsbee said. "But the [school] board felt it was better to go to the public before making further cuts."

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