A whopping $1 billion in school bond funds has been spent on facility construction, repairs, renovations and other upgrades at San Diego city schools since voters approved the first of two multibillion-dollar bond measures seven years ago.

Just 20 percent of that amount – less than $200 million – has actually gone toward projects considered major repairs or renovations to existing facilities, according to the bond program’s latest annual performance audit.

Still, the group auditing how bond money has been spent, Crowe Horwath, gave the district the all clear.

The statistic does, however, mirror what we already know: that thus far, student technology, athletic stadiums and other ribbon cutting-worthy projects have taken priority over urgently needed but less visible repairs, like leaky roofs, stuffy classrooms and asbestos. Those needs still remain across the district.

The good news: There are still billions of dollars to go around when the district finishes issuing all $4.9 billion in voter-approved Proposition S and Z debt, and $800 million in new money is coming to pay for new projects over the next two years.

Though the latest bond spending plan approved by the school board last month doesn’t reveal exactly how much will be spent on major repairs this time around, district staff estimates it’ll account for 22 percent, or $180 million. Roughly a status quo portion.

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Most of those repairs will be paid for using the largest pot of money – about $350.6 million – set aside for a broad category called school-site modernization, which can include major repairs or new construction or both. More than a dozen campuses will get new buildings or plumbing, electrical, interior and exterior building repairs, kitchen and restroom renovations and more.

The next largest chunk of change – $122.5 million – will be spent on air conditioners, thanks to the school board’s decision to push them up on the priority list.

More than $90 million will go to various charter school projects, including a new $790,000 track and field and $14.4 million modernization at O’Farrell Charter School in Encanto.

A joint-use off-campus living science lab that will serve as a field trip destination and headquarters for the nonprofit Ocean Discovery Institute will cost the district $13.9 million, while another $40 million will be spent on new solar panels and other sustainable energy projects.

The new spending plan still carves out significant funds for technology and athletic facilities, too.

More than $49 million is budgeted for athletic facilities and turf fields, including an initial $3 million for pools operated by the YMCA, and $72 million will go toward new technology.

Here’s a visual of how the district plans to slice up the next round of bond money.

Technology and athletic projects are poised to take a smaller piece of the pie compared with how the district spent the first $900 million or so in bond funds. College, career and technical education projects will also get a smaller chunk of bond funds.

As for the $200 million the auditor said has already been spent on major repairs to date, the district is short on specifics about what that included.

The district’s bond program spokeswoman Cynthia Reed-Porter said they don’t have a report with that information, even though the data in the audit ostensibly came from the district.

Reed-Porter could only say generally that the $200 million included projects that improved accessibility and student learning, as well as some school modernization work, but not new construction. Money spent replacing old stadium bleachers with new bleachers was also counted as major repairs, but new bleachers to expand seating capacity was not.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that the latest bond spending plan was approved this month. It was approved in December. 

    This article relates to: Education, Must Reads, School Bonds

    Written by Ashly McGlone

    Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at ashly.mcglone@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5669.

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    I continue to be angry with the School Board for their complete lack of concern for neighbors of many of the "upgraded" sports facilities but....

    I am delighted with their committing almost $14,000 million for joint use of the Living Science Lab in City Heights by the Ocean Discovery Institute, due to open in 2017. I've been a strong supporter & sometime volunteer of ODI since its founding in 1999. It's an amazing and effective organization working with kids in City Heights schools to help them develop skills and interests that can carry them on to college and to a broader future.  http://oceandiscoveryinstitute.org/living-lab/

    Judith Swink
    Judith Swink subscriber

    @Kathy S This is all as it should be. However, the actual projects so much of the money has been used for - upgraded stadium facilities w/ permanent night lights - has been entirely to the detriment of property owners and residents close by many of the schools. Members of the School Board have shown absolutely no concern for those directly impacted by night events which are not limited to night high school football games a few nights a year. 

    Pt Loma High School, project not yet approved, has private properties abutting the school property lines. Many of the homes were there before and in the earliest days of a much smaller school. Public streets are jammed with cars cruising to find a parking space or pick up game goers afterwards during the one night game a year at PHLS. Imagine the lights, the sound from AV and larger attendance (in the proposed expanded seating) roaring in excitement at the game. 

    Similar expansion has just been approved for Correia MIDDLE SCHOOL. They have a Surfing team but no football team. Expansion is solely to enable accommodation to other schools but, more, to rent the facility for non-school events, though I think this may be limited to non-profit organizations.  

    bcat subscriber

    This is the result of an apathetic public...

    Seems like SDUSD is not spending the money as advertised.  However, they are spending the money on what parents want:  stadiums, fields, air conditioners.  So, who's the public's watchdog?  THE BOARD OF EDUCATION.

    Don't blame SDUSD, blame your Board of Ed and Superintendent.  YOU vote for the Board of Ed.  YOU lobby them with your interests.  Contact your local Board of Ed Trustee and tell them what you think.

    The last two positions on the Board of Ed were UNCONTESTED:  Barrera and McQuary.  A third Trustee is under investigation by the VoSD (Foster).  If they are uncontested, they don't need to work to get your vote, they don't need to follow your opinion.

    The only way to make a public government responsive to the public is to have COMPETITIVE political races.  Get out and vote, or get out and run for office!

    Grammie subscribermember

    As always, follow the money. 

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    The school districts have done a total bait and switch job on voters. Let's hope that the fact they called the latest

    bond "Prop Z" means that there will be no more school bond initiatives on local ballots for decades to come.

    Most people don't understand that most of their property tax bills currently go to paying off bogus school bonds like

    those featured in this article. Hopefully, voters will remember this scam the next time they see a school bond on

    their ballot and voter NO. School districts have already ripped off voters far to much.

    Cornelius Ogunsalu
    Cornelius Ogunsalu

    Modernization/Safety & Security

    Building Repair & Replacement

    Air Conditioning

    There appears to be much room for [double and triple] dipping for various projects, with some of these categories overlapping even as each category is already taking up big share of the pie. For example, "building repair and replacement" is the same thing as "modernization" and should fall under "Modernization" while "Safety & Security" should be a separate category if this is meant for the SDUSD Police Department and school sites security.

    My point here is that the various categories in the pie are vague in describing what is [really] going on and how the bond funds will [precisely] be spent. I can also see how certain board members are so reluctant to give up their trustee positions, even in the face of overwhelming lack of trust of the public, with individual [pet projects] that they will personally benefit from and that they want to claim credit for upon completion.