ELECTIONS / PLEASANT VALLEY SCHOOL BOND : Officials Weigh 4th Try After Narrow Loss

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After suffering a 119-vote loss in their effort to pass a $55-million bond issue, baffled Camarillo school officials said Wednesday that they may put the measure on the ballot for a fourth time.

Without the funds, Pleasant Valley school district officials said that within two years, they might be forced to take money budgeted for teachers and students to fix dilapidated classrooms.

"We can't have schools falling down on our students," school board President Dolores (Val) Rains said. "It very well could only be a couple years before we have to start diverting funds from our instructional budget to pay for building repairs."

A total of 69% of the voters at the polls provided a majority Tuesday, but absentee voters killed the initiative with an unenthusiastic 58.9% support.

The measure received strong support throughout the district among those who turned out at the polls.

Fast-growing east Camarillo overwhelmingly backed it, especially in Leisure Village, Mission Oaks and the Santa Rosa Valley. In the Leisure Village retirement community, about 75% of voters favored the measure.

"We're very disappointed by the overall outcome, but I'm very proud of my neighbors," said Rube Davis, 88, a longtime Leisure Village resident. "The folks that live here think that public education is a priority. We'd support another bond measure like this one without hesitation."

A strong pocket of support also came from residents near Las Posas School in western Camarillo, where 80.5% of the voters endorsed the bond measure.

Generally, support decreased in older central and western Camarillo neighborhoods, but exceeded 60% in all 21 precincts where ballots were cast except for Camarillo Springs. In that community of 2,154 registered voters--a mix of new houses and mobile homes at the foot of the Conejo Grade--the approval rate was 59.6%.

The district now has failed three times since 1991 to pass a multimillion-dollar bond measure to renovate its aging elementary system and build three more schools. Such bond measures need approval of 66.6% of the voters to pass.

The measure Tuesday received 6,545 votes in support, or 65.5%, while 3,423 voters opposed it. That compares to a 64.3% favorable vote in November, 1991, and 59.9% support in June of that year. The value of the measure was reduced from $75 million to $55 million after the first loss.

"This was the third try and I guess they struck out," said Bruce Bradley, county elections chief. "In the absentees, they did terrible. They received less than 59%. Once you start out in a hole like that, it's hard [to recover]."

Bradley said the absentee voter's profile is no longer that of the older, more politically conservative person.

"Absentee voters cut across all the demographic boundaries," he said. "Absentees are executives, commuters and people who are homebound. They are young and old, men and women. Essentially, more and more people have discovered it as an easier method in which to participate in elections."

Meanwhile, district officials said they were unsure what to do next about the need to renovate about a dozen older schools and to keep ahead of enrollment that is growing by about 100 students a year.

"We're disheartened," Associate Supt. Howard Hamilton said. "But it's clearly tough to get two-thirds. I do know that--sooner or later--we're going to have to pay the piper."

The 6,900-student district, which educates students through the eighth grade, has 13 schools and may need to build three more--at least two in the eastern portion of the city.

If the bond had passed, officials said they would have immediately begun a modernization and renovation program for the schools, many of which are at least 30 years old.

The failed bond measure would have cost homeowners about $2 per $100,000 of assessed value each month. That means that the owner of a house worth $200,000 would pay about $48 a year for 30 years to pay off the debt.

Bradley said the district could request a recount within five days of his office's certification of the election results--expected Monday. He estimated that such a recount would cost about $1,000.

Rains said the school board will not consider its options until a regularly scheduled meeting June 21. However, she said the district may request a recount.

"We're not sure what we're going to do," she said Wednesday. "I don't know how much closer we're going to have to get. The frustrating thing is that in a case like this, we're not being ruled by the majority of the voters, we're being ruled by the minority. To my way of thinking, that's not right."

The district ran its most aggressive campaign to date--replete with several precinct walks and mailers. Rains said she did not know what impact the county's unsettled economy and the uncertain fate of the Point Mugu Naval Air Weapons Station played on the outcome. The Navy base was recently added to a federal list of possible base closures.

Dale Scott, principal of San Francisco-based Dale Scott & Co., a financial consulting agency under contract to the district, said district officials should not be too distraught over Tuesday's vote.

"It was a solid effort that clearly enjoyed the support of the majority of the voters," Scott said. "We've seen districts go out three and four times before getting a bond passed. One of our clients, Fresno Unified, just got a bond passed on its fourth try. It often takes a great deal of patience."

Mitchell is a Times correspondent and Kelley is a Times staff writer.

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Pleasant Valley School District Election Results

100% percincts reporting

Bond Measure: Votes (Percent) Yes: 6,545 (*65.5%) No: 3,423 (34.5%) * 66.6% needed for approval

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