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Oak Park Celebrates Opening of School Financed by Bonds

Times Staff Writer

Six months after Oak Park voters authorized a $40-million school bond issue, voters statewide passed the landmark tax-cutting measure Proposition 13, which eliminated that sort of fund-raising tool.

The near-unanimous approval almost 11 years ago by the about 500 voters who lived in the eastern Ventura County community paid off Tuesday as students and district officials celebrated the opening this fall of Oak Hills Elementary School.

The November, 1977, bond issue has enabled the Oak Park Unified School District to keep pace with growing student enrollment, which this fall rose to about 1,360 kindergarten through 12th-grade students, about 20% more than last year. The unincorporated community has about 8,000 residents.

The Oak Hills school, at Kanan Road and Churchwood Drive, is one of a small number of California public schools built without state assistance, state education officials said. The district also used the bond money in previous years to build a high school and a temporary junior high school.

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“Only a very few districts are able to do that,” said Henry Heydt, coordinator of the state Department of Education’s school facilities division. “And for the rest, we’ve got almost a $3-billion backlog of applications for new school facilities, plus another $3 billion in new schools are going to be needed in the next five years.”

Districts typically must wait at least three years before receiving state funds for new schools, Heydt said.

Remaining Bond Money

The nearby Las Virgenes Unified School District and the Newhall and Sulphur Springs unified school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley have each opened an elementary school this fall built with local funds that include money left over from bond measures passed before Proposition 13. But the Newhall and Sulphur Springs districts have used the last of their bond money for those projects and must apply for state funds in the future, district officials said.

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The Oak Park district spent about $3.3 million to build its new school, Supt. Marilyn Corey said, which leaves about $30 million in bond money for future school construction. Its Medea Creek junior high school is scheduled to be completed in three years.

Proposition 13, approved by voters in 1978, restricts the ability of school districts to raise or create taxes to pay for new schools. Nine years later, voters approved a statewide ballot measure that reinstated the power of school districts to raise money for new schools through bond elections.

About 60 of the state’s more than 1,000 districts have approved such measures since then.

When Oak Park voters approved their bond issue, “Proposition 13 was the farthest thing from our minds,” said school board member Pat Manning, who was first elected when the district was formed in 1977 and campaigned in favor of the school bond issue. “We were just desperate to have our kids housed closer to home.”

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Junior high school and high school students living in Oak Park were bused to Simi Valley schools during much of the 1970s, rides that took an hour and longer, Manning said. She said she could not have predicted that the district’s successful bond election would save it from the financial trauma suffered by other growing districts after Proposition 13 passed.

Because of rain Tuesday, the school’s opening-day celebration was moved inside. Students sang for district officials and parents, and fidgeted impatiently through several speeches in the school’s auditorium. Afterward, Manning said students at the new school “are lucky to be in a district where residents had some foresight.”


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