ELECTIONS SCHOOL BOND : Camarillo's Measure H Would Pay for Repairs

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Five months after the largest school bond measure in Ventura County history was defeated in Camarillo, the Pleasant Valley Elementary School District is trying for passage of another, smaller bond.

On Nov. 5, Camarillo voters will consider Measure H, a $55-million bond that would provide funds to renovate the district's 14 aging schools and build a new elementary school in the fast-growing Mission Oaks area in eastern Camarillo.

The measure also would provide money for covered eating areas at district schools, which have no cafeterias. Every day, the district's 6,600 students eat lunch at tables on asphalt school playgrounds, with no protection from the sun or the elements. In rainy weather, students eat in shifts in multipurpose rooms.

Last June, a $75-million measure on the city's ballot that would have provided for all the district's growth for the next 25 years, fell short of the two-thirds majority that it needed to pass.

The district has scaled the measure back by $20 million, eliminating a proposed new intermediate school and other new buildings.

"We felt that the $75 million was just too much for the community to buy into," said Assistant Supt. Howard Hamilton. In addition, there was not enough information about how the money would be spent before the June election, and some voters apparently thought most of the money would go to eastern Camarillo schools, he said.

"I don't think they truly understood in western Camarillo that their schools benefited too," Hamilton said. "I'm just not sure the message got out."

This time, backers of the bond, including many parents and PTA members, hope that the message is clear.

"Failure to make repairs may result in school closures and/or double sessions," a 10-page pamphlet reads. "We have no choice but to approach the community."

The brochure also points out that lottery money cannot be used for capital improvements.

"Everyone in the district will gain from this, not just one school," said Donna Chiurazzi, PTA president at Santa Rosa Elementary. "Our school is essentially incomplete. We need a new multipurpose room and to expand the library. My understanding is, we won't get it without this bond."

PTA members at schools across the district are asking parents from each class to canvass their neighborhoods by telephone to raise support for Measure H, Chiurazzi said. "The push this time is to get out the vote," she said. "We're hoping to make everyone aware of the measure."

In June, only 25.6% of the voters turned out. Of those, 60% voted in favor of the bond measure.

In the wake of last June's defeat, bond backers are taking a more thorough approach, courting city voters at community meetings and school open houses and handing out the 10-page booklet to parents that details how the money would be spent at each school.

If Measure H passes, people who own homes within the district's boundaries would have to pay a maximum of $35 annually per $100,000 of the assessed value of their homes for 25 years, officials said.

The school district, which includes the city of Camarillo as well as unincorporated county areas, extends east into the Santa Rosa Valley to Moorpark Road. It has more than 32,000 registered voters.

Some of the district buildings date back to 1895, and the average age of the district's schools is more than 30 years, officials said.

The district's booklet gives examples of renovations that would be made at each school if the measure passes. Renovations would include asbestos removal, upgrading decrepit plumbing and electrical systems, repairing worn-out roofs, improving playground safety conditions and repairing or replacing old heaters and air conditioners.

"Some schools are in worse shape than others," Hamilton said. Some of the district's oldest schools--including Camarillo Heights, Los Primeros, Santa Rosa and Las Posas elementary schools--are most in need of renovation, officials said.

At Camarillo Heights, which was built in the 1950s, "the roof is leaky, the plumbing is 30-year-old pipe and in very bad condition, and the electrical system is not designed to carry the loads it does," Principal Gerry Hamor said.

Although Los Primeros recently received a fresh coat of paint, the school needs extensive infrastructural work, including the removal of asbestos from a kitchen that is no longer in use, and electrical rewiring.

Projected growth is the other major factor, Hamilton said. A district master plan predicts that an additional 3,600 children will enroll in Camarillo schools over the next 20 years. That is an increase of more than 50%.

"The entire Santa Rosa Valley will one day probably all be homes," Hamilton said.

Teachers in the Pleasant Valley Education Assn. voted in September to endorse the measure, said association President Roger Lininger.

"The district needs it," Lininger said. "We want to put it out to the people."

If the bond measure fails again, the district may have to resort to alternatives such as additional portable classrooms on all campuses, year-round education and double sessions, with some children starting school early in the morning and others beginning later in the day, officials said.

"Those measures would only stop the bleeding for a couple of years," Hamilton said. "Now that people know the details, and they can take a breath and read the literature, hopefully they'll support us.

"If they don't," he said, "I'm not sure what we'll do, because the kids are here, and they're continuing to come."

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