Published Online: March 12, 1997

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Immigrant Bashing Blamed in Bond Defeat in Calif.

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A widely distributed leaflet that blamed illegal immigrants for school crowding may have been decisive in last week's narrow defeat of a $57 million bond initiative in Oxnard, Calif., school officials and others said.

The nearby Hueneme and Fillmore districts both won school bond votes. All three districts are in Southern California's Ventura County.

"It was close enough that I believe [the leaflet] did make a difference," Sandra Herrera, the assistant superintendent of the Oxnard elementary schools, said. "It just needed to draw 50 to 60 voters."

According to unofficial results, 4,059 voters voted for Oxnard's Measure J, or 65.4 percent of all votes--just shy of the 66.7 percent needed for passage. There were 2,151 votes against the measure.

The roughly 200 uncounted absentee ballots were not enough to change the outcome, election officials said. Just 14 percent of the district's 40,000 eligible voters cast ballots.

Leaflet Surprise

Oxnard school officials were caught by surprise when a leaflet opposing the bond began appearing in local neighborhoods a week before the March 4 election.

The five-paragraph document, which was not signed by any individual or group, charged local schools with enrolling illegal immigrants to get state and federal funds.

It called for a "no" vote on Measure J until Proposition 187, a voter-passed initiative that would end public education for illegal immigrants in California, is enforced. A court order currently blocks implementation of that measure. ("Judge Rejects Prop 187 Bans on Calif. Services," Nov. 29, 1995.)

One early backer of the 1994 state initiative said last week that he would not be surprised if the leaflet influenced the Measure J vote.

"The people of California are just frustrated over the lack of the court's ability to implement their will," said Harold Ezell of Newport Beach, a co-author of Proposition 187 and a former regional commissioner with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"I don't think you'll see any statewide bond issues pass on education until Proposition 187 is enforced," he added.

If that's true, statewide or locally, children will suffer, said Oxnard resident Armando Lopez, the chairman of the "Yes on J Committee."

"You are punishing the vast majority of schoolchildren in the district who are here legally," he said last week. The measure will go back on the ballot in June.

The bond would pay for 100 portable classrooms and two new schools, as well as help repair existing facilities for the system's 14,228 students. The new space is needed to lower class sizes to 20 students in K-3 classrooms. California is trying to move its average primary class size from 28 students to just 20.

Oxnard's enrollment is growing by 2.5 percent a year. And while the system is on a year-round schedule, there is no room for the smaller classes being urged as part of the state's push to relieve crowding.

Added Ms. Herrera, "We're dead in the water."

Better Luck

Nearby school districts were more fortunate.

With passage of a $12 million bond, the 3,622-student Fillmore Unified system can add 32 classrooms to its middle school, completing a project that began 10 years ago.

Work on Fillmore Middle School, which has five classrooms and a gymnasium, stopped a decade ago because of funding shortages.

The unofficial vote for Fillmore's Measure I was 1,493--or 73.2 percent--in favor and 546 against. Twenty-nine percent of Fillmore's 7,031 registered voters turned out for the ballot.

Despite the sparse 12 percent voter turnout of the Hueneme elementary school system's 20,000 registered voters, the $4.7 million school renovation bond passed with ease.

Hueneme's Measure K received 2,003 yes votes, or 74.7 percent, and 679 no votes.

The bond will help the 8,097-student system buy new equipment and renovate its 11 schools, some of which were built in the 1920s.

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