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‘Defeated’ School Bond Gets New Life

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A handful of outstanding provisional and absentee ballots may mean victory for a $25-million Palmdale school bond measure that seemed to have failed in the initial vote count following the Nov. 6 election, Los Angeles County officials said Monday.

In the new vote tally, the measure is favored 3,848 to 3,123, said Grace Chavez, a spokeswoman for the county clerk’s office.

Measure W, which would raise funds to build two schools in the overcrowded Palmdale School District, needs 55% of the vote to win. According to unofficial figures released by the county Nov. 7, it received 54.78% of the vote. But as 443 outstanding ballots trickled in, the momentum shifted.

On Monday, Chavez said she was “99% sure” that all the ballots were accounted for and that yes votes totaled 55.2% of the 6,971 votes cast.

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The tight vote and the flip-flop--reminiscent of the postelection confusion of the Bush-Gore presidential race--brought a seesaw of emotions for bond supporters, who had seen similar measures fail in 1996 and 1997. On their third try, they were hoping for a better outcome because of the passage of Proposition 39, which lowered the percentage of votes needed to approve bond measures to 55% from 67%.

Despite a well-funded campaign, proponents said they were hurt by low voter turnout among district parents. They said they will wait to celebrate until Monday, when the county clerk officially certifies the vote.

“We’re cautiously optimistic, but we don’t want to get our hopes too high,” said Isaac Diaz Barcelona, spokesman for the elementary and junior high district. “We’re only a few votes ahead anyway.”

After the certification, voters will have five days to call for a recount. However, a recount requires a payment that is nonrefundable if the certified outcome proves correct. Diana Beard-Williams, who led the opposition, said her group can’t afford to front a challenge. The minimum price for a recount would be $1,680.

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“We don’t have the money,” Beard-Williams said. “We’re just parents and senior citizens. We feel it’s like Florida, with those chads.”

If the Palmdale bond passes, it would mean all five Los Angeles County education bond measures were successful in the Nov. 6 election, one of the first local tests of Proposition 39.

It would also avert what Palmdale education officials called a potential crisis for the district, which serves the fastest-growing city in the county and has nearly 9,000 more students than its present buildings can handle.

Supt. Nancy Smith said that without passage of Measure W, the district would consider “double-track” schedules that would have students finishing classes at odd hours.

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