Voters Approve Bond Measures, Put New Faces on School Boards
Voters' concerns about education played out at the polls last week as large bond measures for school construction passed in several cities.
Voters in Clark County, Nev., passed a $3.5 billion bond, 64 percent to 36 percent. It is one of the largest such measures in the country and will pay for school construction, two regional school bus yards, and improvements to existing schools.
Enrollment in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, has grown from 100,000 to more than 200,000 students over the past 10 years. Experts there estimate that county schools will enroll an additional 150,000 by 2008.
In Houston, voters passed a $678 million bond to build 10 new schools and repair 69 others in the 212,000-student Houston Independent School District.
Voters in May 1996 rejected a $390 million bond proposal by a narrow margin, but the latest bond garnered a 72 percent majority.
Terry Abbot, a spokesman for the district, said that the money will help take care of serious building problems, but that $1.2 billion is needed to complete all school repairs. The Houston district has 280 schools, with an average age of 43 years.
School officials expect repairs to begin in January and new school construction to begin next summer.
In Denver, voters approved a $305 million bond measure, 56 percent to 44 percent, and a $17 million property-tax levy, 58 percent to 42 percent. The bond money will pay for repairs at 28 schools and will be used to build nine additional ones to help alleviate crowding, a district spokeswoman said last week.
The 69,000-student district will use the levy money to pay for after-school tutors, reading-assistance programs, and technology needs.
And in California, 20 of 36 local bonds were approved, including the first to be passed in Orange County since 1986, when local bonding power abolished by California's Proposition 13 was restored. The successful bonds total $2.3 billion, most of which is made up by the San Diego district's $1.5 billion effort.
School Board Races
Voters also kept close watch on school board races, fueling heavy local media coverage on issues such as vouchers, school safety, and class size.
School crowding and mismanagement loomed large in the campaign in Broward County, Fla., where voters added a Republican to the school board for the first time in 14 years.
Voters in the 231,000-student district, which is north of Miami, chose seven single-member-district candidates and two at-large candidates; all board members previously were chosen at large. The size of the board increased from seven to nine members. Four of those elected are new to the board.
In the District of Columbia, five new members were elected to the city's 11-member school board.
The addition of new faces signals a chance for a fresh start for the troubled Washington school board. "We now have a chance for the new [school] board to forget politics and focus on policy," said Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va.
The city's school board is facing several challenges--the largest of which will be its fight to gain back full powers, Ms. Bryant said. The city's financial-control board stripped the school board of its power two years ago, but the federally created oversight board restored some powers last month.
In addition, five groups--the U.S. Congress, an appointed board of trustees, the elected school board, the financial-control board, and the City Council--all claim a hand in controlling the capital's school system.
The only incumbent seeking re-election, Sandra Butler-Truesdale, lost her seat to challenger Dwight E. Singleton, who received 52 percent of the vote.
In Washington's mayoral race, Democrat Anthony A. Williams, who was favored to win, brought in 66 percent of the votes against Republican Carol Schwartz. Mr. Williams' education platform included smaller class sizes and higher teacher salaries.
"The mayor in any city is critically important to the success of a school system," Ms. Bryant said of the mayor's race. "This mayor in particular understands that we need to bring the city's resources together to get positive results."
In Louisville, Ky., Democrat Dave Armstrong outdistanced his Republican rival, Bill Wilson, by a ratio of 3-to-1 to win the mayor's race. Mr. Armstrong, who spent the past nine years as a county judge, has promised to visit a city school one day each week as mayor. His goal is to work with school officials to improve education in the Jefferson County district, which includes Louisville.
Vol. 18, Issue 11, Page 7