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Villaraigosa Backs $3.9-Billion Bond for Schools

L.A. Unified officials say the mayor's support is crucial to getting voters to pass Measure Y.

October 13, 2005|Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writer

In a move much-anticipated by school district officials, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa voiced strong support Wednesday for a nearly $4-billion campus construction and repair bond on the November special election ballot.

Flanked by the city schools chief and school board members at the entrance to a South Los Angeles elementary school, Villaraigosa said he believes the bond issue is needed to complete an ambitious school-building program to relieve crowding across the district.

"It's past time that our children get the education they deserve," the mayor said. "Los Angeles is one of the most overcrowded school districts in America.... We have too many kids who don't have a school where we can truly say we are honoring our children."

The mayor's endorsement came after weeks of discussion with Los Angeles Unified Supt. Roy Romer and school board President Marlene Canter, who viewed Villaraigosa's support as crucial to the campaign to persuade voters to approve the bond measure next month.

"A lot of people are saying, 'I trust him. What's his view on this?' " Romer said. "This is an outside verification that we need this bond."

Villaraigosa's support was somewhat clouded by the announcement Tuesday that enrollment in district schools had declined for the third consecutive year. This year, about 20,000 fewer students enrolled; the district had projected a loss of about 9,000. The mayor and district officials were quick to say the recent enrollment decline does not diminish the need to relieve existing overcrowding.

"Our schools here in Los Angeles are still double the size of the state average," Villaraigosa said. "Anybody who would use the argument that we should be planning for just one year and not for five and 10 and 20, certainly doesn't understand the responsibilities of a big-city superintendent. His responsibility is not just to build for this year, but to build for the future."

District officials said they have planned for enrollment declines in their construction blueprints. They said it would take a dramatic and unexpected decline in future enrollment to significantly alter those building plans.

If it passes, the $3.9-billion Measure Y will mark the fourth time since 1997 that voters have agreed to raise property taxes to assist the nation's second-largest school system in its building efforts. Voters approved more than $9.5 billion in three previous school bond measures.

Romer emphasized Wednesday that Measure Y is needed to keep the district on schedule with its plans to open about 160 new campuses and modernize hundreds more by 2012. When the project is completed, district officials expect to return all schools to a traditional, two-semester calendar and end forced busing.

Romer and Canter's effort to win the mayor's backing centered on his concerns over the district's commitment to increasing public access to school facilities.

"Frankly, I needed to know that there was a commitment on the part of the school district to have a partnership with the city to make schools community centers," Villaraigosa said. "And I got that."

Villaraigosa said he did not expect any formal agreement between the city and district concerning greater community access to schools. Canter has asked facility executives to reassess building plans in order to make amphitheaters, sports fields and facilities on future campuses more open to the public.

Currently, the district has about 25 joint development projects with public and nonprofit organizations and issues thousands of permits annually to community groups to use school facilities, district officials said.

At the news conference, the mayor also voiced opposition to Proposition 74, the special election measure that would increase from two to five years the probation period for teachers before they receive permanent status. Supporters of the proposal say it would make it easier to remove poor teachers, while teachers unions and others argue it would do little to improve teacher quality.

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