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School-Building Funds Exhausted as Need Intensifies

Times Staff Writer

State money for school construction has dried up even as the need continues to grow, particularly in fast-developing southern Orange County, education officials said Wednesday.

In the Capistrano Unified School District, which will break ground for one new elementary school next week, at least 15 more schools are needed to keep pace with the addition of 2,000 new students a year in the booming area that extends from Rancho Santa Margarita to San Clemente. Residents in the district earlier this year rejected a special tax measure that was intended to raise $85 million over 25 years for school construction.

New Schools Needed

Officials in neighboring Saddleback Valley Unified School District said they need at least eight new schools, as well as additions to existing campuses, to keep pace with the increase.

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Mary Lou Smith, a facilities planning specialist with Saddleback Valley, said the state has yet to come to grips with “the enormity of the situation” of rapid student-enrollment growth in many areas. She noted that school-construction bond issues passed by state voters in recent years have evaporated quickly.

“The money is all gone,” said DuWayne Brooks, assistant superintendent for facilities planning at the state Department of Education offices in Sacramento. “The last of the money was allocated today (Wednesday), and the earliest we can have another bond issue is June of 1990.”

Two Bond Issues Proposed

Brooks said bills currently in the Legislature propose two bond issues in 1990, one in June and one in November, each asking approval of $1 billion in school-construction money.

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“In the meantime, we’re looking into other possible solutions, including the possibility of a revenue bond financed by the state’s general fund,” said Brooks.

Brooks said Orange County is projected by the state to have a 22% increase in students by 1997 and thus ranks among the top third of counties with rapidly growing school enrollments. But he said some other counties--notably Riverside and San Bernardino counties--have worse problems. He said Riverside County is scrambling to try to accommodate a 76% increase in school enrollment projected by 1997.

Santa Ana Unified School District also has been struggling with increasing enrollment and overcrowded facilities in recent years. But in booming southern Orange County, the problem in the rapidly growing Saddleback Valley and Capistrano districts has become acute, district officials say.

“Very definitely we’re being impacted (by overcrowding),” said Smith. She said the district, which has grown by about 1,000 new students in the past two years, needs at least seven new elementary schools, one new junior high “and some additions to our high schools.”

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In Capistrano Unified, Assistant Supt. William F. Dawson said: “We need 15 more new schools in our district.

“We’re already qualified (under state guidelines) for funds for the new schools, but the state has a cash-flow problem,” Dawson said. “They’re out of money (for school construction) and won’t have any until a new bond issue can be voted on, and that will be next June.”

Dawson noted that earlier this year, Capistrano Unified tried a special election to create one large Mello-Roos special taxing area in the school district to raise money for new schools, as well as expansion and renovation of others. Although the measure received 52.2% of the vote, it failed to muster the required two-thirds approval needed for passage.

Ground will be broken on July 13 for a new elementary school in Mission Viejo that is scheduled to open in September, 1990. The kindergarten-through-sixth-grade facility planned in the 24100 block of Pavion will hold about 700 students and is expected to help ease the enrollment crunch in that area, Dawson said.

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The new school is a joint effort of Capistrano Unified and the Orange County Department of Education. The county department will use part of the new school for teaching handicapped children, Dawson said.

The new building is to be called the Philip J. Reilly School, in honor of the man who was president and chief executive officer of the Mission Viejo Co. until his retirement in January, 1988.


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