Voters to decide on $7 billion school bond measure for LAUSD

Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education races have grown increasingly contentious in recent years, and this election is no exception, with the traditional debate over charter schools fueling the battle.

Voters in the LAUSD will also weigh in on Measure RR, a $7 billion bond measure aimed at improving school facilities, upgrading technology and implementing COVID-19 safety standards. Backers say the funds will address school facility inequities, reduce and remove asbestos, address earthquake and water quality hazards and replace/renovate aging school classrooms/buildings.

According to LAUSD documents, the lion's share of the funds -- about $3 billion -- would be used to upgrade the 70% of the district's facilities that are in desperate need of repairs, and to create modern learning environments within them.

The money would also be subject to independent audits and citizen oversight, and no funds would be used for administrative salaries, according to the ballot language.

The LAUSD Board of Education voted unanimously to place Measure RR on the Nov. 3 ballot, and in its overview document of the measure, school officials said the district has more than $50 billion in needed repairs and upgrades.

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Measure RR needs 55% of the vote in order to pass because it would raise property taxes, per California state law. The cost of repaying the bonds would be taxed at about $2.17 per $100,000 of assessed property value. The measure is expected to raise about $329 million annually until 2055.

Measure RR is similar to the last $7 billion LAUSD school facilities bond measure that was passed in 2008, Measure Q, although that measure was mostly reserved solely for making immediate repairs to school buildings.

For this election, Measure RR has not seen a cent spent by anyone or campaign aiming to oppose it, according to documents from the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, which tracks LAUSD election campaign spending.

In turn, the political action committee "Yes on RR-Committee for Safe, Updated, Modernized Schools," has so far garnered more than $1.5 million in support of the measure -- mostly from labor unions -- and it has spent a little more than $1 million of that money on political advertising, Ethics Commission documents show.

Meanwhile, in the board races, incumbent Scott Schmerelson is looking to retain his District 3 seat representing the western San Fernando Valley. Schmerelson, who is strongly backed by the United Teachers Los Angeles teachers union, is being challenged by Granada Hills Charter High School staffer Marilyn Koziatek, who is backed heavily by the California Charter Schools Association.

In District 7, Patricia Castellanos -- co-founder of Reclaim Our Schools L.A. -- is squaring off against Tanya Ortiz Franklin, a former teacher who works with the Partnership for L.A. Schools. Castellanos is also heavily backed by UTLA, while Franklin has support from a variety of charter school backers. The seat is vacant due to Richard Vladovic being termed out of office. District 7 covers an area that includes South Los Angeles, Gardena, Watts and San Pedro.

Incumbent board members Jackie Goldberg and George McKenna were both re-elected in the March primary in Districts 5 and 1, respectively.

The new board will have to deal with a raft of politically sensitive issues, such as managing the continuing learning challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic and an increasingly intense push to "defund" the School Police Department.