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Community College District Hoping for Passage of $870 Million School Bond

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Aired 4/19/09

Next week, San Diego voters will face Proposition N. The $870 million school bond would help the San Diego Community College District pay for new facilities and equipment on its three campuses. Critics say college officials can’t be trusted with another multi-billion-dollar measure. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis has more.

Mesa is the largest college in the San Diego Community College District. More than 20,000 students are enrolled. Most attend classes in small, single-story concrete buildings from the 1960s. President Rita Cepeda says the facilities are inadequate.

Cepeda: Folks love this school so you will see everything is in its place, everything is neat, but it's ancient. You can only do so much.

Cepeda is counting on Prop. N to provide a new, state-of-the-art math and science building. Right now, math and science classes are scattered about the campus. And she says labs are unsafe and worn-down. Cepeda says for students to succeed in the workplace, they need to be trained on the latest technology.

Cepeda: You have to mirror what’s in private industry.

If approved, Prop. N would generate $870 million. Property owners living within the district’s boundaries would pay $25 for every $100,000 in assessed value. The tax would be spread out over 13 years.

By that time, the number of students enrolled at the three colleges is expected to have doubled to 100,000. College district Chancellor Constance Carroll says a large number of nurses, police officers and firefighters get their training at the colleges.

Carroll: We have a whole long list of professions that need new facilities now because times have changed.

Opponents question whether the district deserves Prop. N. About two years ago, voters approved Prop. S -- a $685 million school bond to renovate and repair the district’s three campuses. Much of that work is either underway or has yet to be completed. Prop. N is designed to pick up where Prop. S leaves off. But San Diego Tax Fighters spokesman Richard Rider says the college district is getting greedy.  

Rider: Their master plan is more like a wish list. It’s really not related to demand, it's related to how much money they can get. If they could get $2 billion rest assured within 24 hours they could claim they could spend it all on the community colleges.

But Carroll says the district put Prop. S money to good use and managed it well. She says high construction costs stymied the district’s original plans.  

Some of the facilities, as anyone who knows construction understands, have been affected by massive inflation in the construction industry. And that’s one of the reasons why we have to make sure that we keep going.

Carroll also points out that the district has received a top bond rating from Moody’s and Standards and Poor’s.  But Rider says a bond rating doesn’t shed light on whether the money was spent wisely.

Rider: All the bond holders care about, and the rating services, is that if they will get their money back. And yes they will get their money back, and we’ll be paying for it. There is no risk to the bond holders, there is great risk to the taxpayers.

Rider also questions the district’s projected enrollment.  He says the enrollment decline at San Diego Unified School District means fewer students will be attending community colleges. He also says more community college students are attending classes off campus.

But Chancellor Constance Carroll stands by Prop. S and Prop. N. She says Rider’s Tax Fighters group is playing party politics. She points out Prop. N is endorsed by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. 

Carroll: The tax fighters, who represent the libertarian party, are opposed to all of the public education bonds because that is their philosophy. But Prop. S was well managed. Prop. N is desperately needed.  

Prop. N requires a 55-percent vote to pass. Meanwhile another community college district will be turning to voters for help next Tuesday. The Palomar District in North County has a $694 million school bond measure on the ballot. The money would be used to construct, update and equip classrooms and labs. Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.  

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