Now for the Real School Work


The painters started work at Vine Street Elementary School near Hollywood Wednesday, just hours after 71% of the voters surprisingly approved a $2.4-billion repair and construction bond measure for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Proposition BB was the first L.A. school bond measure to overcome the Proposition 13 requirement of approval by two-thirds of those voting, a hurdle that until Tuesday had seemed insurmountable.

Mayor Richard Riordan’s reelection bid had been expected to draw a low turnout of mostly conservative voters, who tend to distrust the beleaguered school district and traditionally oppose any property tax hike. But Riordan, a longtime advocate of public education who often backs his views with his personal checkbook, actively urged support of the bond measure. The Los Angeles school board also reduced skepticism by approving a citizen oversight committee to help ensure that the bond money would be efficiently spent as the voters intended.

Latino voters helped propel Proposition BB to victory, going to the polls at more than double their rate of participation in the last mayoral election and eclipsing the percentage of black voters for the first time in the city’s history. According to exit polling for Spanish-language media, many first-time Latino voters were motivated by last year’s federal welfare reform, which cut off government assistance to many legal immigrants, and by the 1994 statewide voter approval of Proposition 187, which would ban public services, including education, for illegal immigrants. (It is now stalled in the courts). Latino voters are a natural constituency for the public schools here because their children make up nearly 70% of LAUSD enrollment.


In the San Fernando Valley, there was one divisive, last-ditch effort to defeat the proposition. A group led by Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) cynically warned that the bond measure would discourage efforts to break up the massive school district. More voters were apparently persuaded by another Valley political leader, former Assemblyman Richard Katz, who tirelessly helped direct the political campaign that supported the measure.

Proposition BB funds will cost the average homeowner roughly $66 per year, allowing the district to pay for pressing physical needs such as wiring every classroom for computers, providing air-conditioning at the hottest schools, performing maintenance work that has been put off for years and building classrooms to meet rising enrollments.

When a new school superintendent is chosen soon, he or she can concentrate more on the district’s 670,000 students and less on how to fix leaking roofs, broken toilets, falling ceiling tiles and cracked asphalt on deteriorating campuses. The retiring superintendent, Sid Thompson, says he used to lie awake at night trying to figure out how to make the numbers add up. Now that Proposition BB has passed, the real work of educational repair also can begin.