NEW SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION BOND AIMED AT HELPING CHARTERS
By Kerry Cavanaugh and George B. Sanchez, Staff Writers | LA Daily News
July 19, 2008 - Amid concerns that voters may hesitate to approve a fifth multibillion-dollar school construction bond in a decade, Los Angeles Unified officials and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have crafted a proposal to woo the public with promises to fund charter schools and small learning communities.
At a hastily called news conference Friday afternoon, Villaraigosa and LAUSD leaders provided few details of the proposed bond measure but said a portion would be dedicated to developing charter schools and breaking up behemoth public schools into independent, mini-campuses.
"This is not about slapping another coat of paint on a problem," Villaraigosa said. "This reform-minded bond will create smaller, independent schools rooted in community and free from downtown bureaucracy."
The mayor and school-district leaders would not say how much money would be sought - or how it would be spent. LAUSD officials had discussed a $3.2 billion figure this spring, but Villaraigosa would only say it would be a significant, multibillion-dollar bond.
Villaraigosa's office has survey research that indicates voters would support a school-bond of up to $10 billion on the November ballot, according to a source briefed on the research.
The president of the California Charter Schools Association said she supports a bond but is apprehensive because she has not yet seen details in writing. She wants $320 million for charters.
A draft of a proposed 2008 $3.2billion bond measure sets aside $150million for charter schools.
"We're supportive of a $3.2billion bond as long as there is a fair share for charter schools," said association President Caprice Young.
"We consider a fair share 10percent of the bond."
While LAUSD officials have pitched the need for another school-construction bond, the district has not appeared to have strong support among civic leaders for a new measure.
And at least two board members said Friday that talk of a bond and how funds would be divided is preliminary.
"I haven't seen any specifics or numbers," said board member Tamar Galatzan.
Board member Julie Korenstein said while there have been discussions of funding for school modernization and construction, there has been no decision on a bond, its total or how it might be divided.
"This board of education has not yet taken a position," she said.
Korenstein was adamant that the Friday news conference was not an LAUSD event and even though board President M nica Garc a attended she was not representing the district.
At the news conference, officials said the proposed bond measure would be discussed at a Tuesday board meeting. However, the board meeting has been canceled.
Voters have already approved four construction bonds for the LAUSD totaling $13.5 billion over the past 11 years.
Voters in November already are being asked to approve $17billion in state bond measures, a $36 per-year parcel tax for Los Angeles residents to fund gang-prevention programs, and possibly a half-percent sales-tax increase in Los Angeles County to pay for transportation.
Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, immediately assailed the announcement.
"This is buffoonery of the highest order," he said. "This would make five bonds in 11 years. Taxpayers are already on the hook for $20 billion including interest."
But Villaraigosa said he is willing to sign on to a bond that dedicates money for small-learning-community construction.
"I need to see a commitment that as we build we're going to build smaller, smarter, more successful schools," he said.
Billionaire philanthropist and LAUSD reformer Eli Broad announced Friday that he also would back a bond that dedicates money for small, independent schools.
Broad donated $23 million earlier this year to help open 17 new charter schools through three organizations, including the Knowledge Is Power Program for school development.
Still, LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer III stressed that a large portion of the bond would go toward maintenance of existing schools.
"Clearly about 40 percent of this bond will be used to continue to modernize and refurbish all of the schools that need it," Brewer said.
"Even though we've built new schools and we've done some modernization, the need is horrendous."
The previous LAUSD bonds raised $13.5 billion and state matching funds provided $6.5billion for new school construction to relieve overcrowding.
The district so far has allocated $12.3 billion for construction of 132 new schools, 65 campus additions and about 160,000 new classroom seats.
Half of the work is completed and the rest is on schedule to be done by 2012 - when the district is expected to reach its goal of having all schools on a two-semester calendar.
But the average age of the district's 800 schools is 45 years and the district has received about $7 billion in voter-approved funding for modernization.
VILLARAIGOSA PUSHES SCHOOL BONDS: Mayor works with charter-school advocates to get measure on ballot.
By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 19, 2008 - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa teamed up with charter school advocates Friday in Boyle Heights to pressure school board members and district officials to put a multibillion-dollar school bond on the November ballot -- and to include at least $300 million for charter schools.
Though not present, billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and former Mayor Richard Riordan have added their support -- and political weight -- to the anticipated bond, which would include more local dollars than ever for charters.
"Today we're putting the muscle behind the reform movement to break down our system into schools that work for all of our kids," Villaraigosa said at Roosevelt High School, defining such campuses as the "small, safe and independent community schools our students so desperately need here in the city."
The bond also would include money to repair and modernize existing schools, upgrade their safety systems and build traditional campuses.
The event's hasty scheduling -- even L.A. schools Supt. David L. Brewer had to adjust his schedule to attend -- was the latest strategic turn in a drama that has occurred mostly behind closed doors. Most of the jousting has been over how much money would go to charter schools, which are independently managed public schools free from some state regulations.
The charter community, led by former school board member Caprice Young, wanted no less than $300 million, or about 10% of the proposed $3.2-billion bond. But that level of support met with resistance from some board members of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The board was to vote on the bond at its Tuesday meeting, but late Friday, officials postponed the item until July 31. Five of the seven board members must approve placing the measure on the November ballot by Aug. 8.
Before the news conference, Young, who now heads the California Charter Schools Assn., said in an interview that she remained dissatisfied with how the dollars are divvied up.
Senior district administrators want to set aside $150 million for charters, according to a district report. Another $150 million would go to "educational partners to operate schools" that work within the system.
In other words, equal dollars would support reforms in district-controlled schools. The bond negotiations, in effect, have became another battlefront over who will control the path of reform in L.A. Unified.
Like Young, Broad, who funds reform efforts around the country, has concluded that charter schools are the best path in Los Angeles. In their view, the more removed they can make the L.A. Unified bureaucracy, the better. This goal also matches up with Broad's personal commitment to help fund new schools started by the more successful charter school organizations, which will need campuses.
Whatever emerges is also likely to help the 10 low-performing schools (none of them charters) now operating under the mayor's purview.
In private discussions, Young has sought an undiluted $300 million for charters.
At one point, she threatened to lead the charter community in an anti-bond campaign if it contained anything less.
But the goal Friday was simply to call for the bond, implicitly bring district officials in line and presage the campaign pitch to come.
Villaraigosa said he spent 10 hours on the phone over the last three days with civic and labor leaders and district officials, including Brewer, to promote the bond and take part in negotiations.