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Newhall Tries Bond Measure Again : Schools: The district is seeking $20 million to build campuses after an identical ballot item fell short in June. The opposition renews its fight.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Newhall school officials on Wednesday launched their second attempt to win voter approval of a $20-million school construction bond measure and the proposal immediately drew opposition from residents who charged the district was mismanaging money.

The $20 million is critically needed to build at least three new elementary schools, district officials said at a news conference. About 4,800 students are enrolled in the district’s six schools, about 950 more than the 3,850 children they were designed to accommodate.

If Measure C is approved on Nov. 5, a homeowner would pay an additional $38 a year in taxes on a house with an assessed value of $250,000. The measure is supported by state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Santa Clarita), the local PTA and the Newhall teachers union, which represents about 180 educators.

An identical proposal appeared on the ballot in June and fell just 120 votes short of the two-thirds approval needed for passage. Several residents who opposed the earlier measure are among a group fighting it again.

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This time, five residents, including a candidate for the school board, have prepared an argument against Measure C that will appear on the sample ballot. The June ballot did not contain an argument against the measure.

“It is again time for local taxpayers to bring this chummy little band of errant spenders to heel,” the argument says. It also alleges that the district has spent too much money building a kitchen to prepare school lunches and on rent for district offices.

Opponents, who include Tamsie Irvan, the school board candidate leading the campaign against Measure C, also said in interviews that the district has overestimated the cost of building new schools.

Newhall officials denied Wednesday that the district is mismanaged.

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“The opposition is vocal, but it’s narrow . . . and totally wrong,” Newhall Supt. Michael McGrath said. “We are confident Measure C will pass because there’s really no other alternative. We could put portables double-decker, but there would still be cafeteria lines around the corner, libraries that aren’t large enough and no room for science labs unless we build new schools.”

Irvan contends that one or more advocates of the proposal vandalized her house June 30, writing chalk messages on the exterior walls warning her to “Keep Your Mouth Shut.” The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed Wednesday that Irvan had filed a report about the incident.

McGrath said the district pays $15,000 in monthly rent for offices, about $12,000 more than it did before moving to new quarters 2 1/2 years ago. He defended the expenditure, saying the new offices are four times as large as the old ones and cost the district at least $30,000 less annually than if it were paying market rates.

“The rent at the old offices in Newhall was going to double anyway and it wasn’t even close to being big enough, so I think that argument will fall on deaf ears,” McGrath said.

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He also said the district is spending $2.3 million to help build a central kitchen that will be funded jointly by the Sulphur Springs and Castaic school districts. Irvan said contracting for the district’s food service programs would be cheaper, but McGrath said the district would lose control over the lunch menu and the quality of meals.

“Most districts do not contract out their food service programs for that reason,” McGrath said.

Laura Jean Mehterian, a longtime Newhall resident who also signed the ballot statement, said the district is overestimating the cost of building new schools. If the district built schools using portable classrooms, it could save millions of dollars, she said.

But McGrath said a district study showed that although so-called “portable schools” cost $3.1 million compared with $5.1 million for conventional ones, they cost far more to maintain and last only 12 years, compared with the 50-year life span of a permanent structure.

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