L.A. Schools Seek Bonds

By Karla Scoon Reid — October 25, 2005 1 min read

The Los Angeles Unified School District will ask local voters on Nov. 8 to support its fourth multibillion-dollar bond issue for school construction in less than a decade.

But those leading the campaign to raise the $3.985 billion are working with less money and less time to publicize the measure than in the past. In addition, it’s unclear how many voters—and, more importantly, which voters—will show up because of a special statewide election that day called by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, on a variety of proposals, including statewide initiatives on teacher tenure and union dues. (“Calif. Teachers Rally Against Ballot Measures,” this issue.)

Some observers have questioned why the 730,000-student district is asking voters to approve a property-tax increase to raise more construction money roughly 18 months after the passage of a $3.87 billion bond.

Measure Y will mark the final phase of the district’s sweeping construction program, bringing the program’s budget to $13.6 billion. So far, about 50 new schools have opened. A total of 160 new schools are scheduled to be built by 2012.

Glenn Gritzner, a special assistant to Superintendent Roy Romer, said there was no compelling reason to keep the measure off the ballot. “We know there’s a need for these schools,” he said. “If we have an opportunity, how do we pass it by?”

Voter support for the construction of new schools and the renovation of others reached a high of 71 percent for the 1997 bond measure, and dropped to 62 percent in 2004. To pass, Measure Y needs to garner at least 55 percent of the votes cast.

Darry Sragow, a lawyer and Democratic strategist who managed the three previous school construction bond campaigns, said he generally has up to eight months to publicize a measure. He has only eight weeks this time, because the school board waited until late July to place the measure on the ballot.

Some Democratic voters believe the special election is “dumb,” he added. But instead of voting no on the statewide initiatives, some Democrats—who are generally supportive of school bonds—could opt to stay home, he said.

Still, Mr. Sragow said he’s confident the measure will pass. If the measure fails, 79 LAUSD elementary schools will remain on year-round calendars.

A version of this article appeared in the October 26, 2005 edition of Education Week