2 School Measures Deserve Support : Yes votes in San Diego, Fallbrook would help districts catch up with 1980s' growth

Population growth has slowed in San Diego County during this recession, but many schools are still playing catch-up from past growth spurts. So voters in two San Diego County school districts are being asked on the June 2 ballot to help build a few schools, and to modernize or expand others.

Both deserve a yes vote.

San Diego Unified School District

Proposition O would implement a tax increase authorized by the voters in 1974, before the tax-cutting initiative Proposition 13 changed the rules. So Proposition O requires only a simple majority to pass.

The 1974 measure has been used judiciously--only twice in the 18 years since its approval. The last increase was presented to the voters--and approved--in 1988. If the voters approve this request, it will be the last under the 1974 measure.

The money raised under Proposition O, up to $215 million over 11 years, would be used to expand or renovate 33 schools in established neighborhoods throughout the city and to build four schools in the urban core, an area where continuing neglect can have devastating consequences as was seen recently in Los Angeles. Crowding at inner-city schools in San Diego has escalated faster than predicted, in part, because many families in these poorer areas are doubling up on housing.

The San Diego Unified School District has seemingly done a good job of making the most of other cures for crowding: portable classrooms; multitrack, year-round schedules; double-session kindergarten. Closed schools have been reopened.

Examples of need are abundant. At Bell Junior High School in Paradise Hills, for example, each assembly has to be held six times because there is no room large enough to hold all 2,150 students, and some portable classrooms are so far from the main building that teachers need golf carts to carry supplies. At De Portola Middle School in Tierrasanta, science experiments are limited because of a lack of laboratory space. Sherman Elementary, east of downtown, has so many lunch periods that noise interrupts classes.

The tax increase is fairly modest--an average of $38 a year on an assessed valuation of $100,000, over the next 11 years. That's just $3.17 a month. Even for the recent purchaser of the median-priced existing home, at $181,500, the monthly contribution would be just $5.73. However, the pinch will feel greater, more like $60 a year on a house assessed at $100,000, because the 1988 increase kicked in only this year.

But the tax increase will bring an added economic benefit: more than 4,000 jobs.

If all other things were equal, we would have preferred to see a tax increase for instructional programs rather than for construction, given the massive budget cuts that are looming. Or to have put off this increase a couple of years.

But all things are not equal.

A new tax measure for instructional purposes would have required a two-thirds vote. And putting off the implementation of the 1974 tax measure would throw away $30 million or more for badly needed facilities.

We urge voters to dig a bit deeper into their pockets and vote yes for Proposition O.

Fallbrook Union High School District

Proposition N in the Fallbrook Union High School District is a general-obligation bond measure. It requires a two-thirds majority.

Fallbrook's one high school is overflowing. It was built for 1,200 students, expanded to accommodate 1,800, and now has 2,400--with 2,600 expected this fall. Right now, there are two dozen portable classrooms, and double sessions or year-round multitrack schedules will be needed soon. Year-round schedules are much more difficult in high schools because of athletics and other extracurricular activities.

The school district has been trying to get a bond measure passed for 14 years to build a second high school. This is the fourth try. But this measure is scaled back considerably. Rather than raising enough money to build the entire second school, the money from this measure will go to expand the existing school and to build just a small part of a new school.

The tax increase required to pay off the bond is very modest, but it will continue over 25 years. It would raise the property tax an average of $8.43 a year for $100,000 assessed valuation.

We recommend a yes vote on Proposition N.

This is a tough economic year to recommend tax increases, but schools are not the place to skimp.

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