The Bell Curve


November 02, 2000

To all of you aficionados of the arts and people to whom I owe money

who phoned last week to find out if I had departed this world or had been

fired, my deepest thanks.

There should have been a block of copy where my column usually appears

saying something clever like "Joe Bell is off this week to concentrate on

incantations against the New York Yankees." But there wasn't, and I

apologize to all three of you.


Actually, my wife and I were wallowing in fall colors in the Great

Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, about which I plan to

write later. We were also in Jimmy Carter country while he was opting out

of the Southern Baptists for reasons that relate rather directly to some

things going on here. But I'll save that, too, because this week is full

of portent, both locally and nationally, and I'd like to run on a little

about one element in our upcoming election.

Because I have this note pasted to my forehead that says "Keep It

Local," I ask you to accept a small stretch. I believe that nothing is of

more local importance than our schools, and they will be deeply affected

by two of the propositions put before California voters on Nov. 7.

Proposition 38 would authorize annual state payments of $4,000 per

pupil for privatereligious schools. Proposition 39 would permit school

bonds to be passed with 55% of the local vote.

To take the latter first, we were most fortunate -- and sufficiently

enlightened -- to pass a school bond in Newport-Mesa by more than a

two-thirds majority earlier this year. Dozens of other school districts,

including our neighbors in Irvine, haven't fared so well.

In district after district, one-third of the voters -- often

prevailing by a few tenths of a percentage point -- has managed to abort

desperately needed school bonds. An earlier statewide effort to change

this to a simple majority almost passed -- and probably would have passed

had Gov. Davis given it his support. The 55% compromise will hopefully

satisfy enough of the doubters to bring it home. I hope to help make that


While the passage of Proposition 39 would make it easier for the

majority of voters to address critical needs of their local public

schools, the passage of Proposition 38 would do just the opposite. It

would divert massive public funds and attention into dubious and unproven

private school vouchers that author and MacArthur fellow Stanley Crouch

called, in a recent Los Angeles Times essay, "nothing more than pink

elephants walking through hills of horse feathers."

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