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Calif. Voters Pass Bond Issue for School Buildings

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California voters last week approved the largest school-bond issue in state history, a $1.9-billion plan that school officials said will begin to make a dent in the state's backlog of building projects.

The measure passed with approval from 53.1 percent of the voters. A separate, $900-million bond issue for higher-education projects won with 51 percent of the vote.

California school administrators, accustomed to reacting to less favorable budget news, expressed delight over the bond measure's margin of victory, which, while modest, was better than some had expected.

"We're enduring some very tough times but the passage of this measure demonstrates a very responsible attitude of the electorate,'' said Charles D. Binderup, the superintendent of the Tulelake Unified School District and president of the Association of California School Administrators.

Still, school officials acknowledged that they will continue to find themselves with many unfunded building needs. An estimated $5 billion would be required to fund all approved school-building projects, and some of the projects that will begin as a result of last week's bond measure have been on the state's list for five years.

Unlike school districts in other states, California schools are highly dependent on the state for building funds. Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 property-tax-limitation measure, requires two-to-one voter approval of local funding increases--a threshold that most districts have found hard to reach.

Beyond the $1.9-billion program, lawmakers are considering an additional, $900-million school-bond referendum for the November ballot.

While many observers had been concerned that voters might follow the recent trend of steadily declining victory margins for bond issues, Mr. Binderup suggested that last week's results demonstrate that residents realize the schools need help.

"We are impressed, given the shortcomings of the California economy,'' he said, adding that the results should encourage school officials across the country to highlight their building needs.

"We need to be very aware that many of the schools where our children are expected to get a world-class education are in serious disrepair,'' he said. "The education infrastructure is an important issue.''--L.H.

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