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Published in Print: March 10, 2004, as Voters in Los Angeles Approve Bonds for Schools

Voters in Los Angeles Approve Bonds for Schools

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Los Angeles voters approved a $3.87 billion bond measure last week to renovate and build new classrooms, creating roughly 49,000 new seats to alleviate the district's chronically crowded schools.

The "school repair and overcrowding measure" generated virtually no organized opposition and was approved by 63 percent of voters on March 2. The district needed 55 percent approval to move forward with its third bond measure since 1997.

The 750,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District will set aside more than half the money for new school construction, while another $1.5 billion will be earmarked for repairs and upgrades to existing facilities.

The new classroom seats—the equivalent of roughly 50 schools—could lead the district to return to a traditional, nine-month school calendar. This year, 234 schools operate on staggered, year-round calendars because of overcrowding.

In addition to school construction, the measure will pay for the purchase of library books and computer technology, and help build preschool centers and charter schools.

"The district has made significant gains in academic achievement and in its school construction program, and the voters are recognizing that," José L. Huizar, the president of the school board, said in a statement last week.

Some Are Critical

The Los Angeles district is in the midst of a construction boom, fueled by a $2.4 billion construction and renovation bond measure passed in 1997 and a $3.35 billion bond measure passed in 2002.

During the past five years, more than 75 schools and campus additions have been built or started. In addition, nearly 10,000 school repair projects have been completed. The district hopes to open a total of 170 schools using the money generated by all three bond measures.

Critics of the bond measure, however, said the district was asking too much of taxpayers, who already are coping with the burden of the two previous school measures.

Renters, who won't see the impact of the property- tax hike because of rent controls, pushed the measure through at the expense of homeowners, contended Kris Vosburg, the executive director of the Harris Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a group that promotes taxpayers' rights.

He noted that the measure would have failed if a two-thirds majority were still required for bond approval.

"What we're seeing is the Los Angeles community's homeowners being gouged," he said.

Meanwhile, the bond-measure victory clears the way for the district to receive up to $2 billion in matching state dollars, a much-needed boost for the nation's second-largest district, which is still reeling from the effects of sweeping state budget reductions.

Last year, the district cut $359 million from its budget. Talks were under way last week to identify further reductions to the $12.5 billion budget for 2004-05.

The matching construction dollars will come from a statewide measure, which narrowly passed last week, that will pump $10 billion into K-12 school construction and renovation and another $2.3 billion into building and repairing buildings at public colleges and universities.

California also got much-needed budget relief from voters who backed a proposition that gives the Golden State the authority to borrow $15 billion to balance its books. ("Calif. Voters OK Governor's Crisis Package," this issue.)

Vol. 23, Issue 26, Page 3

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