Voters to decide $7 billion LAUSD bond measure to finish modernizing schools

Voters in November will decide a $7 billion bond measure to pay for continued modernization projects in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The Board of Education approved in a unanimous vote late Tuesday the ballot measure’s title — School Upgrades and Safety Measure — as well as a description that will be submitted to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder to appear on the ballot.

“This is something we don’t bring forward lightly but something in strong support of staff and the families we serve because we see the impact it takes,” said Superintendent Austin Beutner.

The general-obligation bonds would continue efforts over the past 20 years funded with previous bond measures to build new campuses, make repairs and improve classrooms to meet the technology needs of students. As a result, the bond measure would not increase property taxes, but rather continue the existing tax rate that otherwise would decrease soon as the prior bonds expire.

The average tax rate for this particular bond assessed on property owners amounts to roughly $21 per $100,000 of assessed value until 2055 generating nearly $330 million annually. The bond measure needs at least 55% voter support within the district.

If approved by voters, the bond measure would be among the largest school-district bond measures in United States history.

Of equal size, 2008’s voter-approved LAUSD Measure Q was said to be the largest ever for a school district.

LAUSD is the second-largest school district in the country with close to 700,000 students and a budget of roughly $7.7 billion this year.

Current estimates show the district has more than $50 billion in unfunded facility needs at roughly 1,100 school campuses district wide. More than 70% of all buildings were constructed more than 50 years ago and many are deteriorating and do not meet today’s standards for learning, officials say.

With some students learning in new classrooms, others are stuck in outdated facilities creating disparities district officials say are unfair. More than 500 school sites need to be modernized, they say.

Board Member Kelly Gonez said the construction projects represented what students truly deserved.

“Facilities and resource equity is a real issue,” Gonez said. “It impacts not only how students see themselves and the value we place on them but also what doors open for students and what access they have.”

Board Members Scott Schmerelson said modernizing schools was important for learning and vital for students.

“I do know how modern and well maintained school enhances the quality of education and significantly improves student achievement.” Schmerelson said. “Every student deserves to be in a modern classroom. Continuing the bond program will help the district make this a reality.”

Since 1997, the district has built more than 131 schools, helping to end the need to bus students outside their neighborhoods. More than $26 billion of investment has gone toward projects that created roughly 350,000 construction related jobs. Remaining work is estimated to create an additional 120,000 jobs. Before 1997, it was 34 years before the district applied for a bond.

Mark Hovatter, the district’s chief facilities executive, said the district modernization program has gained national recognition. Given the economy and the construction market, he said this was the right time to build. The proposed bond measure would allow the district to continue improving campuses for roughly the next 10 years.

“This is not just about facilitates, but the needs of the entire district,” Hovatter.

Labor union leaders and others who advocate for trade workers said the bond measure would help bring the county out of an economic recession.

“Working Angelenos are desperate for good jobs,” said Rob Nothoff, policy director for Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Ron Miller, an officer on the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council, representing 140,000 trade workers, said the trade group representing 48 local unions has been involved with the district since 1999, which has helped build many careers.

“When the school district, community, business and labor work together we can achieve great things,” Miller said.

The district currently has $5.3 billion in projects underway, but if the November bond measure does not pass, officials say the modernization projects’ funding will run dry.

Estimated costs for the election are between $12 million and $16 million.

In 2019, the district failed to get the needed support of voters for Measure EE, which would have funded teacher salaries, class-size reductions and the hiring of additional support staff.

“I do know that voting for a bond right now makes some property owners a little nervous given what’s going on with our economy,” Schmerelson said. “But this proposed measure is scheduled not to increase the tax rates.”

Here is how the $7 billion in bonds would be spent:

  • Nearly $3 billion to upgrade and retrofit old campuses.
  • $1.5 billion for upgrading systems, grounds, furniture and equipment to reduce safety hazards.
  • $430 million for ensuring buildings are fully compliant with accessibility standards.
  • $300 million to enhance and expand learning wellness and athletic opportunities.
  • $130 million to provide safety upgrades at early childhood education facilities.
  • $130 million to replace adult and career centers.
  • $450 million to upgrade, modernize and construct charter school facilities.
  • $195 million to replace aging cafeterias.
  • $375 million to improve school safety and security.
  • $405 million to furnish and equip schools with learning technologies.
  • $33 million to replace outdated and inefficient school buses.
  • $40 million to ensure oversight and accountability of bond expenditures.

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