ORANGE : Jarvis Group Drops Suit Against District

A statewide taxpayers group is withdrawing its lawsuit against the Orange Unified School District after the school board decided this week to rescind a property fee and place the matter before voters.

But if the measure to be placed on the November, 1992, ballot proposes the levy under an obscure 1972 state law, said Joel Fox, the group's president, then the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. will renew its legal challenge.

The trustees were sharply divided over whether to overturn the controversial, $30-per-year fee for school maintenance, but they unanimously agreed to a compromise Thursday in deciding to put the issue before the voters next year.

Board members said they have yet to decide, however, whether the ballot measure will specifically propose a $30 assessment under the state Landscaping and Lighting Act, as the board originally had approved June 28.

The motion the board passed Thursday calls for a measure seeking a "vote on whether a fee should be assessed."

The ballot measure may, therefore, propose the same action that trustees rescinded, or it may seek a different property levy, officials said.

The ballot item could, for example, propose a schools parcel tax in an action similar to one Irvine voters narrowly rejected earlier this year.

The target election date is 15 months away, and "a lot has to be done between now and then," Board President Alan E. Irish said after the vote Thursday.

"We're facing a much bigger problem," said Irish, noting that the assessment would have raised $1.6 million but that the district has $55 million in deferred maintenance it cannot afford to complete. "We'll need a year to ascertain what type of bond, maintenance assessment district or whatever we need."

The board has until July to determine exactly what the ballot measure will propose. By then, the makeup of the board will have changed.

Trustees Jeff Holstien and Nancy Moore will step down when their terms expire in December, and Trustee Russell Barrios will seek reelection in November.

Although the Jarvis group is dropping its suit against Orange Unified, Fox said, it will continue to oppose any effort to use the state Landscaping and Lighting Act of 1972 to raise money for schools.

"We still don't think you can do that," he said. "We're going to do more research and inform the district that it is still our belief that this act cannot be used for schools. If they choose a different route and the voters agree to it, then God bless them."

Regardless of what type of property levy is ultimately proposed, the measure will almost certainly require approval by two-thirds of the voters, under the California Constitution, said Rosalyn Lever, Orange County assistant registrar of voters.

Orange Unified is the sixth district in Orange County this summer to enact a maintenance assessment only to later rescind it.

It is the only district, however, that has scheduled a ballot measure on the issue.

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