The senior citizen vote is being credited or blamed, depending on residents' points of view, for the defeat of a local school bond measure that went down by a 57% to 43% vote Tuesday.
A group of older volunteers, most of them senior citizens, led the campaign against Measure H, which would have raised about $23 million during the next six years for new projects and repairs that officials said were needed for local junior and senior high schools.
Only about 15% of the estimated 80,000 voters in the William S. Hart Union High School District cast votes in the local election. The measure was the sole item on the ballot.
But while some precincts reported a less than 10% voter turnout, several precincts in neighborhoods that include retirement communities reported turnouts of nearly 25%.
"The seniors turned out and the parents didn't, so the parents only have themselves to blame," said Gonzalo Freixes, co-chair of the pro-measure group, Citizens for Better Schools.
Tom Haner, 64, one of the measure's opponents, said it's unfair to characterize the area's senior citizens as being against school improvements. He said that many senior citizens could not afford the tax increase and felt the district should be able to maximize the resources it already has.
"I really don't blame it on the seniors for this going on," Haner said. "I have just talked to a lot of people who are fed up with their taxes."
A total of 4,974 people voted for the measure, while 6,708 voted against it, according to the Los Angeles County registrar of voters.
Because the measure was a modification of a previously approved bond issue and not a whole new bond, it required only a simple majority to pass.
The bond issue it would have modified was passed in 1974 and is in effect through the 2000-2001 school year. Currently, the funds from that bond can only be used to pay rent on district buildings. District officials have needed less than one-fifth of the maximum collectible under the bond in recent years to meet those payments.
Measure H would have allowed district officials to collect more money under the bond to use for a wide variety of projects, including earthquake repairs, campus security systems and new computers.
Proponents argued that the measure would cost a person with a home assessed at $150,000 only about $60 a year for badly needed repairs and improvements.
Opponents argued that the measure's wording allowed anything considered a "needed improvement" to receive bond funding, possibly opening the door to runaway spending.
The results of bond elections in the Santa Clarita Valley have been mixed during the past few years.
A $20-million bond for two new schools was approved in March, 1993, by 78% of voters in the Castaic Union School District. A $10.2-million bond was also approved by voters in the Saugus Union School District in June of that year.
Two attempts to pass a $20-million bond in the Newhall School District failed in 1991, however. A majority of voters supported each bond, but not the necessary two-thirds.
Interim Hart Supt. Daniel Hanigan argued during this year's campaign that the money was needed to enable the cash-starved district to replace aging air conditioners, buy modern science classroom equipment, and repair buildings damaged by the Northridge earthquake.
He said officials at each school had drafted a "wish list" of items they wanted repaired or added, but with the defeat of the measure, all except the emergency items will be ignored.
"The planning will just stop where it was," Hanigan said. "However, we still need to address recovery from the earthquake. We'll just need to do that within the boundaries that exist now."
But Haner said the measure's defeat will ultimately be beneficial for the area's residents.
"I couldn't be more happy," he said. "I know my renter at [my] other house is going to be happy because I won't raise his rent."