But a group of residents is fighting Measure CL, calling it an unjustified tax hike for many residents living on low incomes and questioning how the money would be spent.
"This is poor timing," said Sandra Suarez, a Lawndale resident and former member of the Centinela Valley Union High School District Board of Education. "We're in very tough times. People are trying to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. We don't have any money to give."
Measure CL on Tuesday's ballot calls for collecting an average of $97 annually from property owners in Lawndale, Hawthorne, Lennox and east El Segundo for the next 12 years. The tax would generate an estimated $11 million a year for schools in the Lawndale, Hawthorne, Wiseburn, Lennox and Centinela Valley districts. Measure CL needs approval from two-thirds of voters to pass, and revenues and expenditures would be evaluated by oversight committees.
Local school officials say the money is desperately needed in the face of devastating state funding cuts. But opponents argue that residents, many who live on low incomes, can't afford another tax hike.
"This is not the type of economy you want to be putting extra cost burdens on homeowners as well as renters," Lawndale Councilman Jim Osborne said.
But local educators warn that more cuts could come if one of the two school funding tax measures, Propositions 30 and 38, do not win on Tuesday. Support among likely voters for Gov. Jerry Brown's Proposition 30 has dropped to 48 percent while support for Proposition 38 has fallen to 39 percent, according to a poll released in late October by the Public Policy Institute of California. The competing tax measures are aimed at restoring statewide K-12 funding.
The passage of Measure CL, meanwhile, would generate about $1.9 million for the Hawthorne School District annually. Lawndale schools would receive about $1.7 million, Lennox about $998,836 and Wiseburn about $2.3 million. Students from those districts historically attend high schools in the Centinela Valley district, which would receive about $4.6 million annually, according to numbers provided by the district.
If Measure CL and the two state propositions fail, budget cuts could lead to increased class sizes and, for some districts, a school year that ends in early May.
District officials said Measure CL was reluctantly put on the ballot and is necessary because it ensures local tax funds benefit South Bay students.
"It's not the first option, but it is how we are handling the reduction in revenue from the state," said Lawndale school board member Ann Phillips. "If the revenue were coming in from the state, this would not be going to voters."
Specifically, Measure CL would allocate funds for teacher salaries, computer technology, school security, resources for special-needs students, college and career prep and new textbooks.
Measure CL calls for a special parcel tax of 2 cents per square foot of residential lots and 7.5 cents per square foot for nonresidential lots. The tax rate can be adjusted for inflation. Homeowners 65 and older can file an exemption with Los Angeles County.
"All of our districts are suffering financially right now because of the fiscal crisis," said Wiseburn Superintendent Tom Johnstone, adding that the district has reduced its budget by 20.5 percent the last four years because of state funding cuts and reduced the school year by five days. The district hasn't purchased new textbooks since 2009. "The state has abdicated its responsibility to adequately fund schools. We shouldn't have to be doing this."
While the opposition to Measure CL is being led by a small group of Lawndale residents, the campaign to pass it is being bankrolled by Telacu Construction Management and WLC Architects Inc., two large firms overseeing facility upgrades at Centinela Valley schools made possible through proceeds from a pair of $98 million bond measures passed in the last four years.
In October, WLC Architects was awarded more than $300,000 in contracts for work at Centinela Valley schools, records show.
Telacu Construction Management contributed $15,000 to a committee working to pass Measure CL, Teachers For Safer Schools, according to campaign finance records. WLC Architects contributed $5,000 to the committee, documents show.
Attempts to reach representatives from Teachers For Safer Schools were unsuccessful. Phone messages and an email were not returned.
Money allocated from the two previous Centinela bonds has gone to fund major projects at the district's three high schools, including new buildings and seismic upgrades to existing structures.
Still, opponents argue the funding could have been better spent to increase student achievement.
"I don't see any of that money that they're getting going to students and helping programs," Suarez said. "If anything, the students, they are suffering."
John Clem, president of Telacu Construction Management, said the company regularly contributes to local political campaigns across the state and would not reap any profits from Measure CL. A representative from WLC Architects could not be reached.
"This is strictly something Telacu does as its overall mission to support education across the state of California," Clem said of the donation to back tax hikes for the Centinela Valley District. "Not one dollar from Measure CL will go to construction or facility work. It's for teacher salaries and the replacement of funds the state has withheld."
Opponents of Measure CL say the campaign contributions suggest questionable leadership by officials in the Centinela Valley, a district that has long struggled but has made recent strides to upgrade learning facilities and turn around student achievement.
"It seems flagrant," said Mariano Velazquez, a Lawndale resident who has questioned how proceeds from Measure CL will be spent by local school districts. "It makes it more apparent that none of these people leading our schools are serving the needs of the community. They're just serving their friends and business contacts."
Centinela Valley officials point to recent progress made by students on standardized test scores and sparkling new facilities as proof that the once-struggling district is turning around.
"I think our current record of academic results and successful construction speaks for itself," said Ron Hacker, assistant superintendent of business services for Centinela Valley.
Local school districts are overstating the impact the state funding crisis has had on local schools, Velazquez added, pointing to local charter schools that are thriving without relying on tax hikes -- among them, Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale -- and said that new money for classrooms could be raised through private fundraising efforts.
"They're saying, 'Without funding, we can't provide quality education. If you don't give us this tax, we're going to drop the ball on the community,' " Velazquez said. "It's a plan to fail. This tax won't even help them with a portion of what they have lost."
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