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L.A. Bond Proposal Nixed; Cleveland Levy Boost Approved

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Los Angeles voters appeared last week to have narrowly rejected a proposed $2.4 billion bond issue that would have provided money for renovations at hundreds of the massive district's aging school facilities.

Though absentee ballots were still being counted late in the week, the measure apparently fell less than 1 percentage point short of the two-thirds majority needed for its approval.

The news was better for school leaders in Cleveland, where voters ended a 13-year drought by approving a property-tax increase that will bring the city's financially troubled schools an additional $67 million a year.

The finance proposals in the two districts, as well as in Minneapolis and Carson City, Nev., were among the most significant of the many local tax and bond-issue proposals facing voters nationwide on Nov. 5. ("Voters in L.A., Cleveland Face Key Questions," Oct. 30, 1996.)

The Cleveland property-tax measure, which won with 54 percent of the vote, was the first operating levy for schools in the city to pass since 1983. It will help pull the district out from under a $152 million debt, officials said. The 74,000-student district has operated under a state-appointed oversight board since a federal judge ordered a state takeover last year.

Local officials hailed the levy's passage, saying it will provide much-needed revenue in the district, which has an annual budget of roughly $600 million.

"We needed the money, and I'm glad the levy passed," school board member Cynthia E. Triplett said.

She initially opposed the levy proposal because of concerns about where the money would be spent, and said she still has some reservations. "This will bear a lot of watching over the next few months."

Richard A. Boyd, the state-appointed superintendent, agreed that accountability was at first a concern of many voters.

"The money will be spent on the right things," Mr. Boyd said. The superintendent emphasized that the levy will not begin to generate money for the district until January, but because the tax increase is on the books, the district can begin to borrow against it.

"This won't be the kind of borrowing that has gone on before--borrowing with no expected revenues," Mr. Boyd stressed. He said the additional money could be used for full-day kindergarten, textbooks, repairs and maintenance, security officers, and a reading-improvement plan, among other purposes.

"This town is feeling a lot better about itself," he said.

Disappointment in L.A.

There was little good news, however, for educators in the nation's second-largest district, which must now seek other ways to pay for needed school repairs. The proposed school construction bond issue, which would have been the largest ever for a single school district, apparently fell just short of the two-thirds majority needed.

Officials in Los Angeles said last week that the remaining absentee ballots were unlikely to change the outcome.

Shel Erhlich, a district spokesman, said the disappointment among administrators was especially keen because so many voters supported the proposal--a rare occurrence in Los Angeles.

The near miss left educators with a "strike while the iron is hot" attitude, he said. "The feeling is to use this momentum to run another [bond] campaign fairly soon to see what happens," Mr. Ehrlich said.

Meanwhile, the district must continue to put off all but the most crucial types of maintenance.

Approval in Minneapolis

Among other key local finance issues:

  • Minneapolis voters strongly supported the renewal of an "excess" property tax that since 1990 has provided additional funds for small class sizes and early-childhood programs.

With 70 percent of voters supporting the measure, Superintendent Peter Hutchinson said the approval of the $33 million levy was a vote of confidence for the 47,000-student district.

  • In Carson City, Nev., voters turned down a proposed $48.5 million bond issue that would have, in part, built a second high school for the overcrowded district. Unofficial returns showed that 56.2 percent of voters rejected the measure.

The bond issue had drawn considerable opposition. The $30 million high school was to be a "middle college," an increasingly popular experiment nationwide in which the curriculum and instruction of a high school are linked with that of a community college. ("Carson City School Vote Puts Middle-College Idea on the Line," Oct. 23, 1996.)

Assistant Editor Millicent Lawton contributed to this report.

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