Senate passes $25 billion school bond issue for ballot

By Stefanie Frith, The Associated Press
Friday April 05, 2002

SACRAMENTO — More than $25 billion in education bonds to help fix up deteriorating schools was approved by the state Senate Thursday, sending the issue to Gov. Gray Davis. 

The Senate voted 27-11 for the bill, which authorizes the placement of two bond measures before voters this November and in 2004. It passed in the Assembly in March by a 71-6 vote. 

A $13 billion bond proposal will go on the November 2002 ballot and would be followed in 2004 with a $12.3 billion bond issue. 

They combine for a bond package worth almost three times as much as the $9.2 billion deal approved by voters in 1998. 

Davis hopes to sign the bill soon, said spokeswoman Hilary McLean. “He hopes that it (the bill) will be passed by the voters (in November and 2004) and will benefit a whole generation of California students.” 

Money from the bonds will help low-performing and overcrowded schools, design upgrades and expand buildings at community colleges, and campuses of the California State University and the University of California. 

The deal encountered early opposition from Republicans, but two early opponents, Republican Sens. Dick Monteith of Modesto and Maurice Johannessen of Redding, changed their votes and backed the bonds. 

Sen. Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, said the plan unfairly gives some districts more money than they deserve. He said Los Angeles Unified School District’s proposed 40 percent share of the $4.1 billion allocated for critically overcrowded schools, is too high. 

The Long Beach Unified School District would receive $200 million, Oakland receives $124 million and the San Diego Unified School District would get $118 million. 

Even $25 billion isn’t enough to fix everything, said Sen. Dede Alpert, D-Coronado. “We have more need than there is room in this bond.” 

If voters approve the bonds in November, $4.8 billion will become immediately available to schools that have already applied for construction projects, Alpert said. 

“This is a historic bond,” Alpert said. “It’s a bond every school district deserves to have access to.” 

The Office of Public School Construction estimates that more than $21.1 billion in state bonds are needed in the next four years for K-12 school construction alone. 

Three out of every four schools are more than 25 years old. The state estimates that 12,775 additional classrooms and 331 new schools will need to be built over the next five years. 

Alpert said the bond deal would also set aside $1.7 billion for critically overcrowded schools, as well as help districts pay for land on which to build schools. 

“By placing these bonds on the ballot now, California can take advantage of historically low interest rates,” said Sen. Bruce McPherson, R-Santa Cruz. “It is important that we give voters an opportunity to decide if these bonds are necessary for California’s future.”