September 24, 2008

Vote ‘Yes’ on Measure W

There are school bonds, and then there are school bonds: big, small, necessary and not.

And this year there are lots and lots of Los Angeles County school districts - 10 in our greater region - going hat in hand to voters Nov. 4 to ask for bonded indebtedness that will pay for new campus infrastructure and deferred maintenance.

There are three main reasons for the high number this election cycle. The first is that many of our districts' physical plants were built just long enough ago - in the 1940s, '50s and '60s - to be in real need of some shoring up after all the decades of hard use. (This includes some seismic retrofits, but most of that work has been done.) The second is that technological demands of modern learning - read, enough power and then electrical outlets for dozens of computers rather than one, say, overhead projector - are vastly different now than when most of our campuses were built. The third is a different kind of practicality on the districts' parts: Proposition 39 lowered the voter-approval threshold to 55 percent from two-thirds so long as stringent public oversight committees and other taxpayer safeguards are in place.

In other words, it's a lot easier to get a school bond passed.

Much as we love our schools, that doesn't mean every district's bond measures are equal. We'll take them one at a time, on merits.

The Whittier Union High School District's Measure W bond proposal is one of the worthiest we've seen this election cycle, and we strongly endorse its passage.

Rather than an entirely new bond, this $75 million measure would extend current construction bond Measure C, passed in 1999, for seven more years, so there will be no new line item on local property-tax bills if it passes. (That one passed with the old two- thirds majority.)

The district prudently asked voters for less than it really needed last time. This time, it aims to use the money to build highly important and practical vocational and career technical classrooms; to upgrade security and athletic facilities; to improve air conditioning and to install safety lighting.

Whittier Union includes Whittier, California, La Serna, Pioneer and Santa Fe high schools, along with adult education, continuation and independent study centers.

The district in recent years under the leadership of Whittier High graduate Sandy Thorstenson has simply been an incredible success story. With a student body that is 83 percent Latino and 67 percent economically disadvantaged, it saw its API test scores soar 26 points last year, almost double the state average. Last year it had an exit-exam pass rate of over 99 percent even with the first (and unfair) inclusion of students with disabilities in those statistics.

Now, with practical plans to go back to the future and quite rightly offer industrial arts classes to prepare students for successful careers, Whittier Union very much deserves to be supported by its constituents Nov. 4 with a "yes" vote on Measure W.

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