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Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Salinas Californian 2-21-04
Passage likely for schools
SACRAMENTO -- When Salinas-area voters go to the polls in two weeks, they'll get a chance to complete the unprecedented job they began for schools in 2002.
On March 2, they'll be asked, along with all Californians, to approve Proposition 55, a $12.3 billion bond for construction and modernization of the state's public elementary and secondary schools and colleges.
That follows the $13.05 billion bond for public school work that voters passed with 59 percent of the vote in 2002.
"People are extremely supportive of public education," said Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction. "I am confident Proposition 55 will pass."
But if it doesn't, the measure will be back automatically on the November general election ballot under the terms of the law that placed the two bond measures of unprecedented size before voters.
That's not welcome news to opponents, who think bonds are the wrong way to pay for schools.
"It's a bad deal for taxpayers," said Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a GOP activist group. "It would be better to reform school construction and pay as you go."
Rob Slaby, superintendent of the Salinas City Elementary School District, said the defeat of Proposition 55 likely would torpedo a deal between educators and Schwarzenegger to minimize cuts to schools in the 2004-05 budget -- opening the door to more cuts.
He said his district already has laid off six administrators and is maintaining classes at exactly the state-required level.
"I don't know how much more schools can cut," Slaby said. "They always say go out and trim, but I don't know where else to trim."
Roger Anton, the associate superintendent of Salinas Union High School District, said his district is looking for $40 million to $50 million from Proposition 55 to help complete a project for new middle and high schools.
He said the district will have to come up with about the same amount to match with the state money. The district already has raised $15 million from two local bonds passed over the last three years for the project.
Anton said the project is important because the district is experiencing growth of 5 percent to 6 percent a year. While most of the schools in his high school district are designed for 1,600 to 1,800 students, he said they are trying to accommodate 2,000 and more students.
"Without the passage of Proposition 55, it would put the entire burden on us locally" to raise the money, Anton said.
Roger Aguilar, superintendent of the Chualar Union Elementary School District, said he's looking for $940,000 from Proposition 55 to help modernize a 1947 school serving 150 students.
Not home free
Statewide, proponents said the bond will address the problems of aging schools as well as a growing population they serve:
Passage of the bond, however, doesn't mean local districts are home free. They must come up with matching funds, 50 percent for new construction and 40 percent for modernization projects.
The state has $1.4 billion left from the 2002 bond, but it also has eligible applications for $16 billion in kindergarten through twelfth grade projects, said Ken Hunt of the Office of Public School Construction.
At a Glance
Here Is Breakdown of How Money Would Be Distributed:
$2.25 Billion for Dilapidated and Outdated Schools.
$5.26 Billion to Build New Schools.
$50 Million for Joint-Use Facilities, Such as Libraries or Recreational Facilities, Between Schools.
$920 Million for Repair and Construction Work at Community Colleges.
$690 Million for Work at the University of California.
$690 Million for California State University.
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