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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS

Voters Support Funding for Schools, Library

The money will be used to modernize Simi Valley campuses and keep class size down in Oak Park. The Santa Paula facility will add hours and books.

March 04, 2004|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Simi Valley school officials can move forward with new construction and building improvements. Oak Park school officials will be able to keep a lid on class sizes. And Santa Paula residents will see their library's hours expanded.

Voters in each community demonstrated their generosity this week by passing bond measures and property tax increases to help pay for these school and library programs.

More than 14,650 Simi Valley voters, or 61.7% of those who cast ballots Tuesday, favored a $145-million bond measure that will improve all 28 campuses in the 22,000-student Simi Valley Unified School District. The measure required 55% voter approval.

Most of the money in Simi Valley will go to modernize plumbing, heating, restrooms and electrical and air conditioning systems. Nearly $30 million will cover new construction, such as library improvements, classrooms and a stadium and track at Simi Valley High School. The measure will cost property owners $42 per $100,000 of assessed valuation for up to 30 years.

"We're very happy around here today," said schools Supt. Kathryn Scroggin. The improvement and construction projects, set to begin this summer, are expected to be completed over 10 years, Scroggin said. The bond also provides schools with $100 per pupil in discretionary funds.

"The bond is fiscally sound. It assures the education of our children and secures the rising property values in the city," said Marybeth Jacobsen, chairwoman of the bond campaign.

In the nearby Oak Park Unified School District, 81.5% of the 3,495 people who cast ballots supported a five-year parcel tax. The measure will add $197 to property tax bills later this year.

The money raised, up to $900,000 annually, will save the jobs of 20 teachers, maintain small class sizes and help protect honors and college prep courses, as well as music and arts instruction.

Schools Supt. Gary Richards said parents in the 3,700-pupil district were promised that the added revenue would be used only to preserve the district's 220 teaching positions and other classroom needs.

"There's a sense of pride that this community has in its schools and a willingness to step up" in lending its support, Richards said.

But with a $1.3-million budget shortfall anticipated next school year, Richards said, the district will still look to community fundraising to help bridge the gap.

"One of the problems we're facing is that we don't know what other cuts we'll be facing. We're glad that [Propositions] 57 and 58 passed," he said.

Patrons of the Blanchard/Santa Paula Library District provided a close victory, with 2,712, or 68.2% voting in favor of increasing a special annual library tax from $15 to $40 per parcel, expected to raise $112,500 a year initially. Both the Santa Paula and Oak Park measures required a two-thirds vote.

"We just squeaked by," said district librarian Daniel Robles. The nearly 24% increase in the annual library budget will pay for $60,000 in needed improvements to the building's electrical system, which dates back to the early 1950s. Added funds will also be used to help expand library hours from 40 to 44 weekly and double to $30,000 the yearly book-buying budget for the 80,000-volume library.

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