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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

L.A. District Bond Succeeds; Statewide Voting Is Closer

Local measure receives strong support, while Proposition 55 runs close to a simple majority.

March 03, 2004|Jean Merl | Times Staff Writer

Voters on Tuesday gave strong approval to a $3.87 billion construction and repair bond measure for the Los Angeles Unified School District, while a $12.3 billion statewide bond measures for schools and colleges was locked in a close race.

Measure R, the Los Angeles district's third bond measure since 1997, handily surpassed the 55% it required. However, Proposition 55, the state bond, was hovering just above the simple majority it needed.

The organizers of both campaigns said they had expected the elections to be close, despite Californians' strong tradition of backing schools. They worried that voters' willingness to borrow might be exhausted by debt incurred by earlier state and local school bond measures, along with the presence of the state's $15-billion budget bailout measure also on Tuesday's state ballot.

State schools chief Jack O'Connell said he had been nervous about Proposition 55's prospects.

"We simply cannot afford to wait" to build more classrooms at schools and colleges, O'Connell said, as the measure slowly pulled above the 50% mark.

If Proposition 55 lost, it would automatically be submitted to state voters again in November.

Los Angeles Supt. Roy Romer said he was buoyed by the support for Measure R.

"This is a historic occasion," Romer said, noting that Measure R and two previous district bond approvals over the last seven years would produce the nation's largest concentrated program of school construction and renovation.

Romer said he had been hoping Proposition 55 would pass because Los Angeles and other local school districts were counting on matching funds from it. "We need that match." .

Los Angeles school board President Jose Huizar said he was grateful to voters.

"The district has made significant gains in academic achievement and in its school construction program, and the voters are recognizing that," he said.

"Measure R allows us to continue this progress. We now have to deliver on our promises, and I am confident we will," he said.

Proposition 55 was designed to set aside $10 billion for facilities for kindergarten through 12th grade. If it passes, community colleges would get $920 million from the state bond, and $690 million would go to each of the state's two other higher education systems, Cal State University and the University of California.

By election day, Proposition 55 supporters had raised nearly $10 million for a campaign to pass the second state schools construction and repair measure in less than two years. The measure won political support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the League of Women Voters, the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Taxpayers Assn., among many others.

Opponents, including state Sen. Rico Oller (R-San Andreas), the National Tax-Limitation Committee and the 60-Plus Assn., said Proposition 55 would be too costly.

They did not raise money for a significant opposition campaign, however.

Voters statewide approved the $3.3-billion Proposition 47 in November 2002, enabling school districts, colleges and universities to begin the first half of a major building program to repair aging campuses and make room for students entering high schools and colleges.

The state and local school bond measures had already gone on the ballot when the governor and the Legislature submitted Proposition 57, the $15-billion bond measure to help ease the state's fiscal crisis. State bonds are paid back from the state's general fund, while local ones are repaid through property taxes. The tab for Proposition 55 was an estimated $823 million annually for 30 years, according to the state legislative analyst's office.

The Los Angeles Unified School District's Measure R was projected to add $60 a year for each $100,000 in assessed property valuation over 30 years.

That was in addition to the $100 annually per $100,000 in assessed valuation from the school district's previous two bond measures, the $2.4-billion Measure BB in 1997 and the $3.3-billion Measure K in 2002.

Measure R opponents, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and the United Organization of Taxpayers, said property owners were already overburdened from the earlier measures.

Supporters, however, including the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, United Teachers-Los Angeles, labor groups and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the money was needed to complete a nearly $10-billion program to make room for the district's nearly 750,000 students in safe, modern schools near their homes and to put many of their overcrowded multitrack schools back on traditional calendars.

Before Measure BB passed in 1997, the district had not modernized or expanded its schools for nearly three decades, despite rapid growth in enrollment.

With the last two bond measures, Los Angeles Unified has built seven schools and 12 classroom additions; 70 projects are under construction. Almost 10,000 repair projects have been completed or are underway, district officials said.

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