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School Officials Detail Plans for Bond Measure

October 16, 2003|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles school district took the first steps Wednesday toward placing a $3.8-billion school construction bond on the March ballot. The bond measure -- the district's third in seven years -- would fund new campuses and repairs to existing facilities.

The $5.7 billion garnered from the previous two bond measures, BB and K, funded ambitious building projects and plans, which are expected to add seats for 112,849 students.

Officials said the new bond would provide about 39,000 of the additional 93,000 seats needed to relieve overcrowding and return all Los Angeles Unified School District schools from multitrack calendars to a traditional school year.

On Wednesday, schools Supt. Roy Romer and other officials of the nearly 750,000-student district presented details of the proposed bond to the School Construction Bond Citizens' Oversight Committee. The Board of Education is expected to vote on the proposal next month, in time for a county deadline for ballot measures.

Romer said he believes that a March 2 bond vote would be well-timed because a $12-billion state education bond would be on the same ballot, along with the presidential primary. According to district officials, as much as $1.5 billion from that state bond could go to match the district's spending for new construction and repairs.

"If we don't participate, we lose the matching funds," Romer said.

The local bond measure requires 55% of votes to pass. Polling indicates a strong approval rate, despite the recent gubernatorial recall, Romer said. "I don't feel the anger and frustration expressed in the last election was aimed at education," he said.

But given the state budget problems, the campaign for the bond's passage will focus on school construction as an economic stimulus in addition to its benefits for children.

John Perez, president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, said in an interview Wednesday that his organization had not yet voted on whether to support the bond measure. But he also said he thought the bond is needed to finish the district's building plans. "The district has made a good faith effort to build the schools we need," Perez said. "But BB and K were not enough money to do all the things that parents and the community want."

The district estimates that the bond would cost property owners a maximum of $60 per year for each $100,000 in assessed property value. That cost would be in addition to about $100 per year per $100,000 in property value being spent to fund the two previous bond measures.

Critics have complained that Proposition BB, passed in 1997, was not properly managed and cite a $600-million shortfall in the repair projects it was supposed to fund. Members of the bond oversight committee said Wednesday that Romer, who took office in July 2000, seems to be doing a better job of supervising bond spending than his predecessors.

The school board may make modifications in how and where the bond money should be allocated. But under current plans, the new proposed bond would provide $1.65 billion for repairs and $1.4 billion for construction.

In addition, the district plans to allocate $218 million to repay certificates of participation, against which the district recently borrowed to fund building projects not covered by bond money. By repaying that money, Romer said, the district could free up general fund spending.

The new bond, as planned, would also provide $312 million for technology upgrades; $108 million for library books at new and existing schools, $30 million to build and repair preschools and $20 million to purchase three sites for use by the district's adult education program.

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