|After a two-year legal battle over Measure C, the Foothill-De Anza Community College District can finally move ahead to sell bonds that will fund renovation and construction of campus buildings and update technology.
Local voters passed Measure C in 2006, allotting the district, which includes nearby Foothill College and De Anza Community College in Cupertino, more than $490 million to upgrade and repair the campuses.
But a lawsuit over the legitimacy of the bonds has prevented the district from using the funds. The state Supreme Court ended the case for good last month when it refused to review an appeals court ruling, which said the district complied with bond regulations.
"It's been 19 long months responding to the court appeals, but it's been worth it," Chancellor Martha Kanter said.
South Bay residents Aaron Katz and Melvin Emerich argued that Measure C did not meet legal requirements under state Proposition 39 to qualify as a school bond measure, which must pass with a 55 percent approval rate. They said Measure C, which was approved by 65.6 percent, needed to pass with a two-thirds approval rate, or 66.7 percent.
Katz, who has unsuccessfully sued the Mountain View Whisman School District, El Camino Hospital District and other local districts over tax measures, lost the case in December 2006. He was also defeated in appeals court the following year. The California Supreme Court finished the district's legal battle, and also set a precedent for other California community colleges wanting to pass school bond measures under Proposition 39.
"The appellate decision obtained by Foothill-De Anza will now benefit all California school districts," said the college district's attorney, John Shupe, in a Foothill-De Anza press release. "Trial courts will now be able to dispose of meritless claims without protracted litigation."
Although the district put a majority of bond funds in escrow, the lawsuit still cost Foothill-De Anza between $100,000 and $300,000, according to district spokeswoman Becky Bartindale, who says administrators are not sure of the exact number. Interest earnings from the escrow fund have helped cover costs from construction delays.
While waiting for the lawsuit to end, district staff planned renovations and construction projects, and are now ready to begin the upgrades using the freed-up funds. Some of the more urgent projects will begin this summer, with Foothill College renovating classrooms that date back to the 1950s.
"We kept going, so once we got the green light, we could proceed without more loss of time," said Foothill president Judy Miner.
An independent bond oversight committee, appointed by the district board of trustees, will review costs of bond projects and oversee the funds.
Two major bond projects are still being designed: the mediated learning center at De Anza and the new physical sciences building at Foothill. A $50 million North Slope science center will replace Foothill's 40-year-old science facilities, providing students and staff with updated chemistry and physics labs. The learning center at De Anza, which is expected to cost $36 million, will house office space and classrooms for anthropology, technology resources, professional development for faculty and staff, and "distance learning."
"We also plan to build a new science center at Foothill College because we've been teaching chemistry in 50-year old labs that can no longer be salvaged," Kanter said.
In the meantime, members of the district are still celebrating the end of their lawsuit.
"We are looking forward to inviting the community to our ground-breaking ceremony in the months ahead," Kanter said.
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