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Yes on Schools’ Measure R

For the third time in recent years the Los Angeles Unified School District is asking voters for money for school construction. But the $3.87-billion Measure R on the March 2 ballot deserves approval because it would close gaps left by decades of neglect. Los Angeles is still struggling to catch up with its suburbs and the rest of the state.

This editorial page reluctantly opposes the state school bond measure, based on concerns at this time about the state’s fiscal health. The local school bond measure is safer. Because local bonds are paid from a dedicated source, property taxes, they have less effect on local governments’ financial ratings. They also provide a long-term benefit to property owners because of the link between schools and property values.

After early stumbles, the district is making good use of bonds. Sometimes crumbling schools have been repaired, upgraded and air-conditioned. Enough new construction is underway to bring home 16,000 students now bused to distant campuses. But almost half of the district’s 740,000 children are still jammed into overcrowded schools operating year-round on a schedule that deprives students of up to three weeks of classes each year. Measure R would finance 50 new campuses, enough to restore conventional calendars at many LAUSD schools.

For decades, the district’s building program limped along, failing to keep pace with enrollment, as land deals and construction projects were expensively bungled. Then Supt. Roy Romer brought in a professional facilities team that has secured land with fewer ruffled feathers and brought projects in on time, even under budget. On his watch, seven new schools have been completed, 10 have been expanded and more than 100 projects are under construction.

The plans for this bond measure go beyond school repair and construction. Its projects reflect a struggling district that is finally aiming beyond mediocrity -- $20 million to build and equip charter schools; $150 million for preschools and all-day kindergarten; $20 million to open schools to community projects.

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The opposition to Measure R comes from taxpayer rights groups. Payments on the bonds would add, over 30 years, about $100 a year to the property tax bill of a house assessed at $300,000.

Opponents want the district to exhaust previous bonds first and to eliminate what they see as frills. But having the money in hand, even without a new state bond, would allow the district to negotiate difficult property deals and have plans and permits in place when the state’s matching funds become available. The lack of advance planning cost Los Angeles dearly in the past because suburban districts beat it to the head of the line. Measure R -- a school bond measure that would be paid for by local residents and enjoyed by local residents -- deserves a “yes” vote on March 2.


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