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Election Results Give Other Districts Hope for Similar Successes in Fall

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Emboldened by three multimillion dollar school bond victories, at least five Ventura County school districts are considering their own measures, which could land on ballots as soon as November.

The clamor is loudest in the county’s second-largest school district, Conejo Valley Unified, where an $80-million to $100-million bond is being considered.

“It certainly seems to be a good climate” for bonds, said Gary Mortimer, an assistant superintendent of the district. “Voters really seem to realize that schools need help, and they’re willing to dig into their pockets to get facilities into shape.”

In Thousand Oaks, district trustees and officials are hoping that voters are willing to tax themselves to solve problems created by aging schools, surging enrollment and growing interest in smaller classes.

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Indications are that voters are willing. And ready.

Preliminary results from a telephone survey show that Conejo Valley voters look favorably on improving their already well-regarded schools, Supt. Jerry Gross said. At today’s school board meeting, parents plan to urge trustees to move forward with a bond measure.

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A dozen campuses in the 17,993-student district are in desperate need of air-conditioning to get students through the sweltering spring and fall months, they say. Schools require more room for smaller classes. Old plumbing, wiring and roofing must be replaced. Every classroom deserves a computer, they say.

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“There are definite needs, and we believe a bond is absolutely necessary,” said parent Cheryl Bass whose two children attend Westlake Hills Elementary and Colina Middle School. “We’re not going to drop the ball on this one. It’s not going to be an easy thing to pull together, but there’s support from all facets of the community.”

Thousand Oaks schools are far from alone. Ojai and Rio school boosters are compiling their list of needs. Pleasant Valley school officials are weighing the odds. Moorpark school representatives have decided to seek a bond measure in November, but haven’t settled on a dollar amount.

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All are responding to a veritable school bond heyday. On Tuesday, voters resoundingly approved an $81-million bond for Ventura schools and a $4-million measure for Ocean View campuses. While election night figures made the measure too close to call, final results show that a $57-million Oxnard Elementary measure squeaked by.

Los Angeles, Fillmore, Hueneme and Oxnard Union High districts have also scored recent school bond victories.

State officials say it’s not just the improved economic climate, but also the increased attention being paid by President Clinton and Gov. Pete Wilson that is helping to generate interest in schools and also in school bonds.

“There does seem to be a statewide perception that our schools are a vested interest in our future and, with that perception, there seems to be more of a willingness to pass bonds,” said state Department of Education spokesman Doug Stone. “These bonds are passing by at least a two-third vote, which is pretty significant. It’s difficult to get.”

State Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin also credits the decreased bickering among Democrats and Republicans about the direction of schools.

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About four years ago, much of the discussion among Republicans was about privatization of the schools; now they’re talking about fixing the public schools, Eastin said.

“At the end of the day, there is a positive trend,” she said. “There is a lot more bipartisan agreement to do good for education.”

Buoyed by the recent success of local bond measures, officials in both the Ojai Unified and Rio school districts are laying plans for placing bond measures on the November ballot, while Pleasant Valley in Camarillo is more hesitant--once again only discussing the possibility of going for a bond.

While money for state and county schools has been grim for the last five years, the economy is better and parent support for the schools is resurfacing, said David Gomez, an assistant superintendent for the Rio school district.

“It inspires us when the community supports the local schools to enhance their education,” Gomez said of Tuesday’s election. “So it encourages us to go for a school bond.”

Trustees of the 2,920-student Rio district later this month will consider placing a school bond on the November ballot. The measure would pay for constructing new campuses, Gomez said.

School officials in the kindergarten to eighth-grade district say it is likely they will go for no more than $22 million to refurbish old campuses and build schools to accommodate increased enrollment and to continue class-size reduction beyond first grade.

“If we don’t go for the bond, it would probably mean year-round schools for this community, but they like the traditional calendar, and that’s why we’re very serious about obtaining a bond,” Gomez said.

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The district, which draws a third of its students from the unincorporated area of El Rio and a third from the northern Oxnard area, has purchased two parcels for future school construction. One is an empty grass lot in the California Cove area, another is a strawberry patch located near St. John’s Regional Medical Center.

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Ojai Unified School District officials and Rio school district officials are working with San Francisco-based consultant Dale Scott & Co. on bond proposals.

The firm worked on the three bond measures that appeared on this week’s ballot, and was behind successful initiatives in the Fillmore Unified School District, the Hueneme School District and the Oxnard Union High School District.

Ojai Supt. Gwen Grossplans to recommend to the school board later this month that it pursue a November bond measure--possibly in the $15-million range to refurbish older campuses rather than build new schools.

Officials in the Pleasant Valley school district--which has had four bond measures rejected in recent years--are expected to explore pursuing a fifth bond initiative.

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The problems the district faced after a narrow loss in 1995 have worsened since then, said Howard Hamilton, the district’s associate superintendent of administration.

“It’s been a couple of years since we went out for the bond, and the schools are now older,” he said. “We have technology issues and class-size reduction [problems], and we are still growing quite sizably.”

Kate Folmar is a Times staff writer and Regina Hong is a correspondent.


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