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Santa Clarita Plan for School Ballot Measure Delayed

Times Staff Writer

Santa Clarita Valley school officials have decided not to put a property-tax measure on the November ballot to raise money for new schools, saying they need more time to draft the measure and to launch a campaign to win the two-thirds vote needed for approval.

“We want time to think and strategize,” J. Michael McGrath, superintendent of the Newhall School District, said Monday.

The valley’s five school districts began considering bond measures in February, after the state Supreme Court let stand a Court of Appeal ruling that voided a voter-approved tax on new development in the Santa Clarita Valley. District officials had hoped the tax would be used to help build new schools in what county planners say is the fastest growing region in Los Angeles County.

The districts--Castaic, Saugus, Newhall, Sulphur Springs and William S. Hart--predict that they will need at least 13 new schools by 2000. Despite these needs, a committee of district trustees decided last Thursday to proceed cautiously, said Hart Supt. Clyde Smyth.

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“Better to do it right than do it fast,” he said Monday.

McGrath said some trustees did not want to compete on the Nov. 7 ballot with a separate bond measure to improve roads. That bond measure, proposed by a citizens’ transportation group, would add from $75 to $200 to annual property tax bills in the valley. McGrath said the appearance of two potential tax increases on the same ballot could have “condemned both to death.”

Smyth said trustees were also aware of the recent defeat of an $8-million school bond measure in the Simi Valley Unified School District. The measure failed by 59 votes in March.

A separate $35-million bond proposal to upgrade Simi Valley schools, Measure A, passed with 70.5% of the vote. A proposal similar to Measure A, however, was defeated last year, forcing Simi district officials to revive the proposal last month.

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The Simi Valley experience is a reminder that “two-thirds is extremely difficult to get,” McGrath said.

The committee of Santa Clarita Valley school trustees is recommending that the five districts hire a political consultant to gauge whether valley voters would tax themselves to build schools.

Smyth said the districts will study other potential funding methods but will continue to focus on bond measures. Not all bonds are the same, he said, and the districts will have to consider which type would best suit their needs.

The districts have tentatively scheduled a community meeting April 13 to discuss possible funding proposals, Smyth said. A final date and location should be announced this week.

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