Activists Push School Building, Repair Bond

Holding a clock in one hand and an hourglass in the other, Fernando Cibrian stood outside one of Santa Ana's overcrowded schools Friday, urging residents to push for a $9-billion bond initiative that would raise money to build schools and repair aging ones.

"We are running out of time," said Cibrian, a leader of the Orange County Congregation Community Organization. The deadline to put a measure on the November ballot is Thursday, he said at a news conference Friday, "and legislators need to act now.

With Franklin Elementary School behind them, Cibrian and other community activists rallied support for their cause, saying the need to build more schools and upgrade existing ones is urgent statewide.

"Our kids' futures are at stake," said OCCCO member Victoria Zaragoza. "The overcrowding problem has eliminated a lot of space at this school. The kindergarten playground has been taken over by portable classrooms and we are concerned. Children need to play and they need good lighting and air conditioning. We expect them to learn in that environment. We wouldn't put up with that in our workplaces."

Deputy Supt. John Bennett noted that Franklin, a 2.5-acre school, has 600 students, little playground space and no parking lot. And the campus is just one example of the overcrowding problem, he said.

In the Santa Ana district, the student population grows by 1,800 pupils per year, said Mike Vail, senior director of facilities planning. There are 660 portable classrooms at district schools; a new high school will be needed within eight years or there will be a 2,700-seat shortfall for students, he said.

In Santa Ana alone, the price tag on building one new school and modernizing and repairing existing campuses is estimated at $86.7 million, Vail said.

"We don't have the money," he said. "This district has no development, no developer fees and no Mello Roos [developer fee]. We need a bond measure."

OCCCO's sister organizations statewide had similar news conferences Friday and more than half the members of the state Legislature received visits from the activists. They want the lawmakers to place the measure on the ballot, a move that would require a two-thirds vote.

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