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Rebuilding the schools

THERE ARE TWO THINGS we know about the Los Angeles Unified School District. The first is that the school board should have waited until 2006 before putting its latest school construction bond on the ballot. The second is that it has too many students for too few schools.

On balance, the second outweighs the first, which is why we recommend that Los Angeles voters approve Measure Y. The $4-billion bond would allow the district to continue its school construction and repair program, which is the largest such project in the nation’s history and will total more than $13 billion when it is completed in 2012. Thus far, the project, which has included three previous bonds, has been a near-ideal mixture of speed and efficiency, for which Supt. Roy Romer deserves credit.

That said, there is no reason the bond measure needed to be put before the voters next month. A delay would have given the district a better picture of how much enrollment will decline -- and it is declining more quickly than the district had projected -- and which way school construction costs are headed. The district has enough money that its construction schedule would not have been adversely affected by a delay. Further, the bond should have provided far more money for charter schools (they get a mere $50 million), whose enrollment is growing quickly.

Though the board made a mistake by going ahead with the November election for Measure Y, there’s little to be gained by voting “no” and forcing the board to come back in June with a substantially similar measure. A fourth bond has long been planned to relieve crowding at the district’s elementary schools; current bonds are projected to take all middle and high schools off year-round schedules. Elementary schools must come off their multitrack schedules too.

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This isn’t a luxury building project. The district’s elementary schools are so large now that even if the bond passes, 50 of them will still have twice the state’s average enrollment of 500 students once construction is complete. Schools will be considered relatively small if they get down to 700 students or so. The good side of this is that even if elementary enrollment shrinks by more than predicted, the district is unlikely to be forced into closing any schools. They’ll all have enrollments large enough to sustain themselves.

Teachers and students have been stuck in supposedly temporary portable buildings for so long that even those are getting too decrepit to keep. Much of what the district hopes to achieve -- attracting and keeping better teachers, giving children a sense of pride, drawing parents and the larger community to the schools -- starts with having decent buildings in good repair and built to modern needs.

Measure Y will help improve the educational experience of LAUSD’s students in one of the most tangible ways possible. Despite our qualms about its timing, the clear need for better classrooms leads us to recommend a “yes” vote.


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