In 2000, California voters made it easier to pass school bonds, but they included a caveat: The money can’t be spent on employee salaries. So it may come as a surprise to learn school districts statewide have been freely — and legally — spending bond money on employee salaries and benefits for more than a decade.
San Diego Unified officials expect the average condition of school buildings to improve from poor to fair by July 2024, but it’ll take millions from the state and the district’s own general fund – on top of two existing multibillion-dollar school bonds – to make it happen.
Principals and parents are bracing for cuts as San Diego Unified School District staff prepare a budget for trustees that could include layoffs to close a $124 million shortfall. The superintendent wrote that she would seek creative solutions to make sure class sizes remain unchanged.
Under a project labor agreement the San Diego Unified School District signed in 2009, local workers would build all bond-funded projects over $1 million. But the targets set in the deal still aren’t being met, and new numbers show some targets are slipping slightly further away as more large projects are built.
Thanks to new state laws, voters are seeing more information on their ballots about what school bonds will actually cost in the long run. One thing that hasn’t changed: School construction contractors are still funding campaigns promoting the bond measures.
Proposition 51, a statewide ballot measure, is being billed as a $9 billion school bond project that will fix leaky roofs and remove asbestos from classrooms. Those priorities were also front and center in the ballot language for Prop. Z, a local bond passed in 2012. Tens of millions in Prop. Z money has also been spent on stadiums. Prop. 51 funds could also be used to fund stadiums, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office told us.
San Diego Unified has more than $3 billion in school bond funds it has yet to spend on neighborhood schools. Charter schools’ share, on the other hand, is about tapped out.
San Diego Unified is pushing Innovations Academy out of its space in Scripps Ranch and dropping $20 million in bond money on a new facility for the school. It plans to lease the Scripps Ranch space to a developer who will build apartments. The move that makes good on the school board’s commitment to generate revenue off district property. But to Scripps Ranch residents, the decision is illogical: Why push out a charter school just to spend $20 million building a new one?
Halfway through a five-year deal that was supposed to be capped at $625,000, Dolinka Group has already made $1.27 million on a contract with Poway Unified. District staff now says the cap referred to a yearly amount — though it doesn’t appear to have applied that standard to other multiyear contracts.
Former district officials misspent school bond funds, double paid vendors, spent $45 million on an ill-advised land purchase and fulfilled few promises made to voters who approved a $250 million bond measure in 1997, according to the report released Tuesday.