School Districts Plan April Bond Initiatives
Two Ventura County school districts hope to capitalize on an apparent increase in taxpayer support for school bonds in the wake of November’s municipal election.
Trustees of Simi Valley Unified School District voted Tuesday to place a $35-million bond initiative on the April 12 ballot, and Oxnard School District was expected to pass a resolution calling for a $40-million bond initiative on the same ballot at a board meeting Wednesday evening.
A third local school district, Rio School District in Oxnard, is to consider an administrator’s proposal for a $5-million bond election at its Jan. 5 meeting.
To comply with state and county election requirements for placement on the April ballot, districts must decide by Jan. 11 whether to hold such special elections.
Officials from several other school districts in Ventura County, meanwhile, said they will closely monitor these efforts in the hopes of later proposing their own bond initiatives.
Both Oxnard initiatives would raise funds for construction of new schools, while the Simi Valley initiative, in a statewide first since the imposition of Proposition 13, would raise money to renovate existing structures.
School officials are hoping to match the recent success of Fillmore Unified School District in November’s municipal election. In the first successful school bond election locally since Proposition 13 was passed in 1978, 70% of Fillmore’s voters passed a $5-million bond to build a junior high school.
In another turn that local school officials view as auspicious, 11 of the 20 other California school districts that put bond initiatives on November’s ballot were successful.
Proposition 13 had prohibited local governmental entities--including schools--from increasing most property taxes even by floating bonds. But Proposition 46, a 1986 measure, restored the ability of school districts to raise funds through bonds.
In the largest proposed offering, Oxnard School District trustees were expected to propose that voters approve a $40-million bond to construct one intermediate and three elementary schools in the next six years.
Though district officials would not release specific results, they said a telephone poll indicated that support for the initiative will meet or exceed the required two-thirds majority.
Officials at both Oxnard school districts said the bonds are needed because existing sources of funding for new schools--fees levied on developers and state construction bonds--will not cover building costs for projected enrollment increases.
Fernando Cuevas, assistant superintendent for business services at Rio School District, said his district needs one additional school. He hopes to persuade district trustees to consider a $5-million bond initiative for its construction at a Jan. 5 school board meeting.
“We’d like to take advantage of any positive mood that prevails,” Cuevas said.
The Rio district is expected to add 1,600 students to its current enrollment of 2,330 by 1992. The Oxnard School District is expected to add 4,000 students to its current enrollment of 11,531 by 1994.
Norman Brekke, Oxnard School District superintendent, said the district’s schools, which run on a year-round schedule to maximize classroom use, are already operating just under student-to-teacher ratios established by the California Teachers Assn. He said a new school for 900 students in the city’s western portion--Christa McAuliffe School--will operate at capacity from the day it opens in July.
‘No Place to Put Them’
“With this continuing growth of students we have no place to put them except in new schools,” Brekke said.
In Simi Valley, voters will be asked to approve a $35-million bond to repair and upgrade the district’s 27 schools and their grounds.
District officials described the bond for renovation purposes as the first of its kind since Proposition 13.
They said building maintenance funds, which state law limits to one-half of 1% of a school’s total budget, are inadequate to cover needed improvements in the district’s facilities, which date from the mid-1960s.
Of the $35-million bond, nearly half would go to install and repair heating and air-conditioning systems. The rest of the money would pay for furniture, work on electrical wiring, roofs, landscaping, playgrounds and parking lots, and bond-financing costs.
Cracks in Asphalt
“In some instances,” said Mary Beth Wilford, assistant superintendent for business and property management, “we have cracks in asphalt on playgrounds that are bigger than your fist. This presents a real safety problem.”
Simi Valley officials will appeal to voters by pointing out that the bond would not increase the rate that they pay for property taxes because it would take effect at about the same time as the district finishes paying for original construction costs.
The scramble toward bond initiatives is the result of a statewide growth spurt second only to the one that followed World War II, said Bill Rukeyser, a state Department of Education spokesman.
“Growth has been so phenomenal that the state has not been able to react quickly enough,” said Bob Smith, assistant superintendent of business services for the Ventura County superintendent of schools. “Getting money from the state to build or upgrade facilities has become a very long and cumbersome process that can take from three to five years” after a need is determined.
Smith said an $800-million statewide bond to construct schools has already been earmarked for specific projects. Revenue from a second bond, which may come up for a statewide vote in 1988, also could be exhausted by projects that already have been proposed.
Officials at other Ventura County districts said whether they would put bond initiatives on future ballots would hinge on the outcome of votes in the three districts.
“Frankly, we’ll be watching it very closely,” William Sever, superintendent of the Conejo Valley Unified School District, said of the Simi Valley effort. “Our schools are about the same age--20 to 25 years old--and we have a lot of similar maintenance problems.”
Fillmore Supt. Marlene Davis, who credits a grass-roots campaign with the November bond’s passage, predicted that the initiatives would not be successful without considerable effort on the part of school district officials.
“Everybody in this town was contacted in one way or another,” she said. “I talked to every organized group and spoke at a number of coffees. We pulled out the stops.”