Approval of Prop 39 eases school bond requirements

By Jennifer Kerr Associated Press Writer
Thursday November 09, 2000



LOS ANGELES – From Samoa in the north to Poway in the south, public schools and community colleges that have been unable to pass school bonds to build new, technology-wired classrooms are anticipating an easier task. 

Voters on Tuesday approved Proposition 39, allowing approval with 55 percent of the vote instead of the tough two-thirds requirement enshrined in the state constitution since 1879. 

The change, on the third attempt, came as California voters Tuesday affirmed their interest in public education. They also rejected school vouchers for the second time in seven years. 

“I’m very pleased with the way Californians responded to my call to improve and reform public education,” Gov. Gray Davis said at a news conference Wednesday. 

“They trounced, almost a humiliating defeat, the voucher initiative, and they responded positively to our call to support Proposition 39 and fix the schools,” said the Democratic governor, who gambled his popularity by appearing in television ads against vouchers and for school bonds. 

In addition, most districts with bond issues on Tuesday’s ballot were able to achieve the old two-thirds vote, some with votes exceeding 80 percent. 

Twenty of the 27 public school districts and two of the five community college districts made it. Those that would have been successful under Proposition 39’s new 55 percent rule say they probably will be back before voters. 

“Only in light of 39 would we try again,” Bob Reeves, superintendent of the 32,500-student Poway Unified School District in San Diego County, said Wednesday. His $156 million bond received a 62.7 percent vote Tuesday. 

Poway needs to repair 24 of its 30 schools and wants to replace two elementary schools and build a small high-tech high school, Reeves said. 

“Once we try again, I’m sure we can get it with that 55 percent. It’s not going to be easy, though, because we have a lot of retired people out here,” said James Sorter, superintendent of the 90-student Peninsula Union School in the historical logging community of Samoa in Humboldt County. His $1 million bond issue got a 57.3 percent vote Tuesday. 

He said his 37-year-old school is “full of rot” and needs a new electrical system. “We’re mainly running our school off power bars,” he added. 

Since 1986, 54 percent of districts’ attempted bond issues have passed, according to Bob Blattner of School Services of California Inc., which provides financial advice to districts. 

If Proposition 39 had been in effect and districts only had to get 55 percent, nearly nine in 10 of those bonds would have passed, Blattner said. However, many districts never even tried because of the difficulty of achieving two-thirds. 

Districts eager for new bond issues won’t be able to jump in right away, however. A Proposition 39-related law passed by the Legislature last spring allows bond issues to be approved by 55 percent only if they are offered at a regularly scheduled statewide or local election. In the past, many school districts have used special elections held throughout the year for bonds. 

For most districts, that means they won’t be able to try again until the March 2002 primary, when Davis will be seeking a second term. 

Districts are also concerned that there won’t be any state matching funds left by 2002. Voters in 1998 approved a record $9 billion state school and college bond measure, but the money is all committed. The Legislature and Davis would have to put another state bond on the 2002 ballot. 

“We won’t be able to build with just these local funds,” said Donald Remley, superintendent of Oroville City Elementary District, which needs a new middle school, but has lost two bond elections since September 1999. 

“I’m encouraged by what they (voters) were saying in terms of support of local bond measures at a lower percent rate,” Remley added. “The question is whether the timing will help many of us who are facing a lot of growth.” 

The 2002 ballot could also be complicated with yet another initiative seeking to restore the two-thirds vote requirement. 

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the main opponent to Proposition 39, is considering sponsoring such a measure.