Wednesday, July 29, 2009 | Drama boosters at Patrick Henry High School want a real auditorium to replace the “cafetorium” that doubles as an eating space. Two neighboring middle schools want a new field for baseball, softball and soccer.
And the principal of Mann Middle School bemoans the warped hallways and cracked walls of an aging building with shoddy foundations, hoping for a wholesale overhaul of the City Heights school that exceeds the less expensive renovations originally planned.
None of it is free. Nor was it listed among the hundreds of projects in Proposition S, the $2.1 billion facilities bond to revamp San Diego Unified schools that voters approved last November. If the school board opts to add more projects, it could ultimately hurt the bottom line for the whole budget, not just the dollars that pay for buildings and repairs.
Going forward with the added projects could have a domino effect: If the school board gives the green light to the projects, it will likely pay for them out of a special pool of facilities dollars that are already devoted to other things. The bulk of the money is budgeted for major repairs and maintenance, the unglamorous work that is often delayed by government agencies when money is tight.
That means that the school district will have to pare back on other things that are being paid for with those special dollars — or find other ways to pay for them. One major possibility is spending more money from the general fund to cover the costs of maintaining schools, instead of using the facilities funds to cover those costs. The repair money now comes from state facilities funding that was given to San Diego Unified as matching funds during the last bond, Proposition MM, and is slowly running out.
The county Taxpayers Association has long urged the school district to do that, making sure that ordinary repairs are covered by its ordinary funds, instead of relying on onetime funds for those costs. But dipping into the general fund to pay for repairs also means an added, unwelcome hit on the same funds that pay for teachers and test tubes. San Diego Unified is already planning to make more than $68 million in cuts to balance its budget next school year, and fiscal woes are expected to persist into the future.