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$644 Million School Bond Seeks To Modernize, Repair Classrooms

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Aired 4/19/09

The Sweetwater Union High School District will ask South San Diego voters to approve Proposition O next Tuesday. The $644 million school bond would help to modernize and repair aging classrooms. But critics say too much of the money will be used in one part of the district. KPBS Education Reporter Ana Tintocalis has more.

Michael Rafferty teaches science at Castle Park Middle School in Chula Vista. Rafferty says his classroom is literally falling apart. Ceiling tiles are missing, the lights don’t work, and the windows are sealed shut. Today he’s using black garbage bags as curtains.   

Rafferty: We’re doing astronomy right now. And that’s one of the reasons why I have to use garbage bags to blacken out these windows so I can get the room dark enough to do presentations about starts and planets.

Rafferty hopes things will change with Prop. O. If approved, the $644 million bond would help the Sweetwater Unified School District modernize and repair dozens of classrooms. Former Sweetwater school superintendent Bruce Husson is the main backer of Prop. O.

Husson: When you have buildings that the roof leaks when it rains, or its too hot or too cold, and there’s not enough electricity to make things work. Every one of those things is a distraction in its own right. That gets in the way of doing the best we can with kids.

Husson says the district needs to upgrade and repair classrooms because more students are filling them. Enrollment has grown to 7,000 students in just six years. Most of the growth is in the district’s more affluent east side. That’s where a handful of new schools have been built. But schools on the west side are older and more rundown. Husson says that’s where most of the Prop. O money would be used. 

Husson: The western side of Chula Vista and other communities in the Sweetwater District need to have their schools modernized so they can have the same kind of opportunities for students that the new schools provide.

Under Prop. O, the average annual property-tax bill would go up by $48 for the next 25 years. But eastside property owners would most likely pay more because homes in that area are new and have a higher value attached to them. Prop. O opponent Ed Teyssier says the eastside would be picking up most of the tab.  

Teyssier: I think if you were to ask the people in National City, why they should be paying for a high school built someplace in Chula Vista, I think they would say, yeah, that’s unfair.

Teyssier also points out that many eastside property owners are already paying a tax surcharge that pays for new schools.

Teyssier: We don’t want to pay anymore in taxes because we feel like we’re already paying for it.

But Husson says property owners throughout the district are pitching-in to improve the quality of education in Sweetwater.

Husson: The issue about Prop. O is the age of schools. Over 50 percent of schools are 40 years and older. 71 percent of our schools are 30 years and older. Where the resources are going is where the schools are the oldest. 

Teyssier says there’s one more reason not to support Prop. O. He says voters approved a similar school bond six years ago. Prop. B-B was a $187 million bond that paid for repairs and upgrades at 20 schools.

Teyssier: So the things that we were told were going to be done with Prop. BB, still aren’t done yet. I think what we need to do is question why it is every six years the voters are being asked to approve bonds for the same thing. 

But Husson says Prop. BB projects are either completed or underway. He says Prop. O will help the district finish some of the work that was started six years ago.

Husson: When you think about the good that that amount can do for the community, I think the argument weighs heavily on the side of doing what’s right for kids.

Prop. O needs 55-percent to pass.

Meanwhile, voters in Carlsbad and Santee also vote on local school bond measures next week. The Carlsbad School District has a $198 million school bond on the ballot. The measure would pay to modernize five schools and build a new high school.

In Santee, a $60 million school bond is up for a vote. That measure would fund new classrooms buildings, and upgrade school libraries and athletic fields. Ana Tintocalis, KPBS News.

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