Sunday, August 03, 2008


from EDWEEK By The Associated Press

August 1 - Los Angeles  - School district officials want taxpayers to fork over another $7 billion to fund public school construction — the latest of several proposals in recent years intended to ease overcrowding in the nation's second largest district.

The Los Angeles Unified School District board voted Thursday to put a school repair and construction bond proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot. Voters have already approved more than $13 billion in school construction bonds since 1997, including nearly $4 billion in 2005.

Still, district officials said they need about $60 billion more to address all their construction needs.

"We've got 100-year-old infrastructure, and updating it is the highest priority," said Glenn Gritzner, a political strategist for the school district. "We're making up for decades of neglect."

If approved, the measure would increase property taxes by an average of $33.69 per $100,000 of assessed value annually — from 2013 to 2044.

Some critics of the plan said the district has gone too far, noting the latest construction bond proposal is the sixth in 11 years. Only one was not approved.

"I think that this bond will go down," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, a teachers union. "I believe that you are running out of homeowners to pay for public education."

Anti-tax activists have argued that more construction is unnecessary because enrollment has declined in recent years and overcrowding has eased slightly.

The district has about 694,000 students — a number that has dropped by 57,000 since peak enrollment in 2002.

Gritzner said construction funds are still needed because "we still have 200,000 kids in portable classrooms" and enrollment is expected grow again in 2015. He said Los Angeles schools are still twice the size of the average school in the state, and more money is needed to make critical repairs, upgrade facilities and build smaller schools.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa worked with district officials to create the project list, which includes $1.35 billion for repairs and school safety, $1.4 billion for upgrades, $1.4 billion for small schools, $500 million for environmental improvements and $450 million for charter school construction. The remaining $1.85 billion will be allocated to future projects.

David Tokofsky, a former school board member and teacher activist, said the tax increases would hurt property owners hard, especially during a nationwide economic downturn.

"The mayor is running for governor and this is about large contracts for construction contractors rather than helping classroom teachers and students' learning," Tokofsky said. "It's sort of slapped together and the amount is massive."

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