There’s a crack in the wall at Hoover High that $923 million hasn’t been able to fix.

It’s not a big crMoving the Goalpostsack. Visit the school in City Heights, and you won’t even see it. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been problem – especially when it rains.

Rainwater pools onto a flat surface near the business education building. With nowhere to drain, it seeps into the ceiling tiles until they bulge with water, and give way to the classroom below.

“We usually just stick a broom through it and catch the water in a bucket,” said Michael Shefcik, Hoover’s head custodian. “It’s OK – until the next time it rains. Then we go out and do it again.”

He’s not exaggerating. This is during a rainstorm in 2014 in Room 1005 at Hoover High School.

Photo by Michael Shefcik, head custodian, Hoover High School
Photo by Michael Shefcik, head custodian, Hoover High School

Shefcik said an internal beam is now so rotten he can poke his finger through it.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

It’s not a new problem. Hoover principal Joe Austin said the leak has been an issue since at least 2008, when the voters approved Proposition S, a $2.1 billion construction bond to pay for school repairs. At that time, Austin said school leaders were optimistic some of those funds could fix the leak. That didn’t happen.

Hopes were renewed in 2012 that Hoover could deal with its structural problems. That year voters approved another $2.8 billion construction bond and property tax increase – Proposition Z. But the crack still waits to be fixed.

That doesn’t mean Hoover hasn’t seen any bond money. On the school’s north side sits a new football stadium with a vibrant-green turf field. Stadium and upgrades to other athletic facilities here ran the district $15.1 million.

High-powered field lights were erected – which quickly became a lightning rod for complaints about the district’s bond spending. Bleachers were replaced, and a new press box built. It spent another $2 million on a synthetic turf field and a new running track.

District officials told Austin they will get to the leaky ceiling, but the school will have to wait for its “whole site modernization,” a term for projects that bring schools up to code, modernize classrooms, and repair major items all at once. But that won’t happen until 2017, at the earliest.

Leading up to whole site modernizations, district staff work with school leaders to create a plan for what their schools need most. Austin said the plan at Hoover is shovel-ready. But Hoover leaders needed to tweak their plan recently, based on what’s most needed and cost-efficient. And Austin said those revisions could push the school’s modernization back even further, to 2019.

By that measure, it will take the district 10 years to fix a crack.

The crack isn’t the only thing at Hoover that needs attention. The doors and windows in an 85-year-old structure called the 1200-building are so old that custodians have trouble securing it from break-ins at night, which Shefcik said has happened.

The air can be stifling. Sunlight pours in the east-facing windows until Eliza Getch, who leads a program for students who recently arrived from other countries, has to ask librarians if her class can take up some space in the air-conditioned library.

“The district says we’re not in one of the hottest (parts of town). But try saying that when you’re in the 1200 building at noon and it’s 110 degrees,” Austin said.

The district says major repairs at Hoover are delayed until they can build new facilities for classrooms. That way kids won’t be displaced when those major repairs get underway.

It’s not just at Hoover where athletic facilities have been prioritized over repairs.

At Mission Bay High, the new $11 million stadium and athletic fields might gleam, but the hallways and classrooms are drab and vintage. Principal Ernest Remillard said completing the stadium has been such a focal point that the school hasn’t starting planning its whole site modernization, when classrooms are scheduled to be retrofitted and major building systems replaced.

Mission Bay High classroom. Photo by Dustin Michelson
Mission Bay High classroom. Photo by Dustin Michelson
Mission Bay High CAD classroom

A specific price-tag hasn’t been hung on the stadium and field upgrades planned for Crawford High, but the district says it will cost more than $10 million. Others we spoke to put the cost at potentially $18 million. That’s scheduled to happen before the bathrooms are renovated, fire alarm system replaced and classrooms get better ventilation.

Since 2009, the district has spent $107 million on stadiums and athletic facilities like weight rooms, scoreboards, tracks and fields. That’s 43 percent of what the district has spent modernizing schools, which includes repairs, bringing buildings up to code, and adding classrooms.

Yet, of the roughly 140 whole site modernization projects the district lists, only six are listed as complete. Work on the remaining projects are scheduled to begin sometime between now and 2027.

Here’s a breakdown the district provided of the $923.6 million it’s spent overall from Propositions S and Z:

District officials point out that they have completed some work on every campus, even if whole site modernizations aren’t done. But that work includes stadiums.

The bottom line at Hoover is that athletic facilities have gone first while repairs wait in queue. And Hoover isn’t alone.

How They Set Priorities

In April, Mission Bay High students celebrated a ribbon cutting at their stadium with streamers and band music and high-pitched revelry. Before the renovations, the football field was pocked with gopher holes. Next year’s football team will play on new synthetic turf.

Mission Bay High stadium. Photo by Dustin Michelson


The district says the big reason for the stadium construction comes down to equity. It’s not fair for some schools to have impressive stadiums and other schools have rundown, dated facilities.

The school board sets the priorities. A master timeline shows which projects need to be completed. Once a year, board members review reports made by district staff about the condition of district facilities, then decide on which ones will be tackled in the next few years.

The board considers the Facilities Condition Index, which are scores assigned to each school based on the condition of the buildings. The higher the score, the worse shape a school is in. In theory, the district would base its timeline primarily off the index, and tackle schools with highest scores first.

But other factors – like political pressure put on the board and available external funding – can bump projects up the list.

An example of this would be the decision to install air conditioning units in 2,000 of the district’s hottest classrooms. This wasn’t a priority in the original plan.

At first, schools were going to have to wait for their planned whole site modernization projects to have AC in their rooms. But based on political pressure he got from constituents, trustee Kevin Beiser successfully pushed to make this happen sooner.

Grants or matching funds could also jump projects up the list. That’s the reason College, Career and Technical Education projects, like the professional broadcast journalism studio at San Diego High, were prioritized.

Grant money also factored into the decision to prioritize the i21 initiative, which put new technology in classrooms district-wide.

This makes sense. But it doesn’t explain why stadiums and athletic facilities would go first. No grants or matching funds are attached to those projects.

Lee Dulgeroff, the district’s facilities planning and construction officer, says the driving force behind stadium construction is to bring parity to schools across the district. Every student should have a quality school in their neighborhood, and that includes stadiums and playing fields, he said.

Sports are a part of the fabric that keeps kids involved in school, and athletic facilities are about more than sporting events. They’re also a part of physical education classes and serve as assembly spaces for ceremonies and events, Dulgeroff said. So they have to be accessible and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“You don’t know who’s going to arrive in a large assembly space,” Dulgeroff said. “It could be somebody’s grandmother, grandfather, mom, dad or a veteran returning home from war.”

The Sexy Factor

Stadiums are prioritized for reasons related to equity and compliance with ADA requirements – and a dash of patriotism.

But equity relates to classrooms and academic facilities, too. So by the district’s reasoning, it would make just as much sense to try to bring classrooms into parity before athletic facilities.

The rush to build stadiums must also be about something else.

Former Trustee Scott Barnett, who helped pass both Propositions S and Z, chalks some of it up to curb appeal.

“The things that people want to prioritize aren’t always the things we need to prioritize,” Barnett said. “It’s about what the parents want and what the politicians want. Look, you can’t do a ribbon-cutting on new plumbing, right? But you can do it on a new stadium.”

Andy Berg, chair of the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee that was appointed to monitor bond projects, echoes the sentiment.

“Repairs aren’t sexy. Stadiums are sexy,” he said. Berg was a major supporter of Proposition Z, which raised property taxes $66 for every $100,000 of property value someone owns in the school district’s boundaries.

Berg compared it to how we feel in our homes: we might need new wiring inside the wall. But if we don’t see the repairs, we don’t feel any better about where we live. On the other hand, if we have new furniture and a plasma TV, we’re prouder to live there.

“If you take the asbestos out of the wall, do kids feel any better about where they go to school? But if they have a new stadium, that means something. Kids feel a connection to their school. They take pride in their surroundings, they feel more comfortable, which leads to better test scores,” Berg said.

Correlating stadiums and test scores may sound like a stretch, but the district has presented evidence to support the claim.

In a 2011 bond-project status update, the district presented findings from a report written by a Virginia Tech researcher: “Researchers have repeatedly found a difference of 5-17 percentile points between achievement of students in poor buildings and students in above-standard buildings, when the socioeconomic status of students is controlled.”

There’s reason to believe better school facilities attract parents, if nothing else. According to a recent district analysis, the schools that parents chose for their kids are generally those in better condition.

Of course, remember that Lincoln High opened the 2007 school year with a brand-new $129 million campus. Since then, it’s clung to the bottom rung of the district in terms of academics. And despite efforts reboot its program, it’s still under-enrolled by about 1,100 students.

Can’t Please Everyone

Explanations aside, taxpayers have questioned the district’s priorities since bond spending began.

Early on, parents and teachers wondered why classrooms were getting new interactive whiteboards before they were air conditioned. Around the same time, the district caught flak for spending on the downtown charter school while ADA improvements to school facilities waited in backlog. More recently, the district’s pools for schools initiative has drawn scrutiny.

It’s like the district can’t win. That’s the way Berg sees it.

“I think you have a lot of people who want to substitute their judgement for the school board’s. That’s fine, but they didn’t run for school board. And the board is going to upset someone no matter what they do,” he said.

Dulgeroff says that critics take a narrow view of the bond spending and zero in on projects that directly affect them.

“They are not looking at the entirety,” Dulgeroff said. “There’s a lot more to the bond program than that one small piece.”

These are all fair points. But the district pitched the bonds as a way to address an urgent public safety concern. It said it needed money to remove asbestos and hazardous materials from schools, but now admits asbestos never really posed a serious threat to student safety.

Stadiums were listed on the Proposition ballot lists, but they read more like unglamorous upgrades to make facilities compliant with ADA requirements – not state-of-the-art sports complexes.

ADA improvements have been made. The district just happened to do millions of dollars of additional work on stadiums at the same time.

But the biggest concern for William Ponder, who along with Berg serves on the bond oversight committee, is that the district is spending like it doesn’t realize the money will run out.

“These bonds are not a panacea. They’re not going to solve all the problems. This is money that will end, and there’s no guarantee that all those projects will get done,” Ponder said.

“And if not everything on the list does get done, who’s prioritizing the projects that really do need to be done? If nobody’s doing that, I guess we’ll have to pass another bond. Oh, well.”

Ashly McGlone, Camille Lozano and Tristan Loper contributed to this story.

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

    Written by Mario Koran

    Mario is an investigative reporter focused on immigration, border and related criminal justice issues. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email:

    Dennis subscriber

    Now go take a picture of Crawford and compare it to Kearney, UC and MBHS. What a dump of a facility students and the El Cerrito community have to be active.

    Kudos to SDUSD for modernizing public athletic facilities.

    community_watch subscriber

    @Dennis  It should be noted that Crawford fields are not "Joint Use" fields hence they are not "public athletic facilities".  They are school athletic facilities being upgraded using bond money approved via Prop S and Z by voters who were willing to tax themselves for the purpose spelled out in each ballot measure.  Nothing more.  Yes, the Civic Center Act does apply to the use of the facilities once the project is complete but the project should not be designed and built for the purpose of accommodating 3rd party use which we are finding out is above and beyond what is "necessary" for school use.

    bcat subscriber

    @community_watch @Dennis 

    I'm not so thrilled about building stadiums and fields for a few people to enjoy at our expense.  The reality of these fields is that they are used by 50 - 500 students at most.

    I get that they make the campus look beautiful, but so do trees and joint-use parks.

    barb graham
    barb graham subscriber

    It sounds like the whole school district needs to be sent to the unemployment line! Sure, stadia are income generators, but building sports facilities when water is collecting in the ceilings and school buildings (except for the gym) are deteriorating.

    The district has priorities, but they are badly twisted around.  This is why I vote 'no' on bonds. They've taken that money and squandered it at the expense of academic studies. 

    Yet attendance is still mandatory, no matter how poor the quality of the school.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    How much does it cost to rebuild the whole school?  For 15 million, they should be able to accomplish quite a bit.  Should be is the key phrase.  I love how corrupt politicians always respond to criticism with, why didn't you run for office?  That's not the point.   Very few people can win even if they do run so that kind of response is unethical.  There are only so many board seats, and whoever wins is expected to do a good job.  The fact that some have admitted that the stuff about asbestos was nonsense ought to tell parents that it is time for a clean sweep the next time around.  I've been asking that for years.  How many times can they sell a bond proposal on a false premise and get away with it?  Quite a few times.  Perhaps an engineer, doctor, lawyer, or other professional should have to give up their six figure salary and run for school board to fix the mess.  I don't see that happening anytime soon.  According to this clown on the school board, don't complain if you don't win the election.

    Bob Gardner
    Bob Gardner subscriber

    Here is another example of why voters should vote against each and every bond issue that any level of government puts on the ballot. The politicians continually waste our money and then say they need more. 

    Mike subscriber

    @Bob Gardner Whoa...let's not go that far.  "Each and every bond issue" is a pretty extreme position. Stay focused here Bob.

    Steve Bralla
    Steve Bralla

    This is one of the reasons to vote against these bond measures.  

    SherryS subscriber

    This is not a reason to vote against bond measures. Our schools are falling apart and we desperately need more funding for education. This is a reason to attend BOE meetings, get involved, and vote in school board elections.

    Mike subscriber

    @SherryS Apparently our schools aren't falling apart. They have $5B to fix everything.  Instead, they built new stadiums with the money.  So what is falling apart?  By the way, I do vote in elections, every election.  I don't remember Cindy Marten, Andy Berg, and Lee Dulgeroff on the ballot.

    SherryS subscriber

    Did you read the article? Schools are in desperate need of repairs DESPITE the fact that they spent the money on stadiums. The Board of Education is responsible and they ARE on the ballot.

    bcat subscriber

    @Mike @SherryS You gotta vote for the Board of Education.  If you study the government, you'll see that the 

    Board of Ed (BoE) is elected by the people (divided geographically into five areas).  It is a non-partisan election.  The BoE hires the Superintendent.  The Superintendent directs all the other staff (Berg, Dulgeroff, et al.).  The Superintendent also negotiates with the teachers union (SDEA).

    Your only voice in this matter is the BoE.

    bcat subscriber

    @Mike @bcat @SherryS 

    Agreed ... and the next bond measure!

    The communication link is really broken.  SDUSD and SDEA are very "old school".  They project population growth and want to merely propagate the status quo of educational delivery.  They need to understand that they need to communicate with voters in order for voters to approve salary increases, bond measures for capital improvements, and bond measures for staff salaries.

    Remember, a bond measure is a good idea when you have something expensive that needs to be amortized over many years - like taking out a loan.  In particular, it works great when the economy is growing; borrow money when interest rates are low (like now) and pay it back when either the economy is growing fast and/or when there is inflation and the future dollars are not worth as much as they are today.

    One aspect of the region that SDUSD / SDEA is missing is competition.  They behave like they deserve all students and that families are "stuck" in the district.  They're wrong.  People move out of San Diego to get away from SDUSD.  People start charter schools to get out of SDUSD.  People use the CHOICE program to go to schools other than their neighborhood schools.  Window dressing won't bring them back.

    SDUSD / SDEA need to communicate the value to the voter.  They need to go on a public relations campaign, listen to voters, and explain the landscape of a modern education to voters to convince them to provide funds to do what SDUSD / SDEA think is best for San Diego's children.  Actions like the ones reported in the VoSD only serve to undermine confidence in SDUSD / SDEA.

    bcat subscriber

    Another great article - true to the point.

    It is window dressing and to some degree it is what the community wants, but not necessarily what the students need.

    i21 whiteboards came in with great functionality - software, sample curriculum, ability for students to interact and do work on the electronic whiteboard.  However, there was no training and no support.  Is a teacher supposed to take a 40 hr course and then re-write their curriculum for this whiteboard?

    Ask the parents at a school what they want (I did when I led a community group to do this exercise) and they all place academics at the top!  All the right things - great teachers, good learning environment, challenging and broad curriculum.

    Ask these same parents (I did!) to then put those priorities into practice and what do you get:  let's get a new stadium!  How about a pool!  Let's repaint the school!  All these children should have iPads!

    All fluff and no substance.

    In this case, SDUSD is a reflection of the community - all window dressing and no meat.

    Scott Kovacik
    Scott Kovacik subscriber

    @bcat  "i21 whiteboards came in with great functionality - software, sample curriculum, ability for students to interact and do work on the electronic whiteboard.  However, there was no training and no support."

    There was/is training and support.

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    There are a lot of things that schools could do to get students really excited, but will these things cause the students to leave school better educated?  If we handed out to students what is spent on building and maintaining stadiums, I bet they'd love that, but will it better prepare them for life?  And it's ironic that this is happening as we are getting a better understanding of the risk to young people when they play these sports, such as concussions.  I have friends who pressured their son to play football, though he didn't want to because he wanted to be a surgeon and feared injury.  I don't understand these values.

    barb graham
    barb graham subscriber

    @Janet Shelton This artificial turf they're touting...what do you suppose grows under there in the warm, moist darkness? 

    David subscriber

    Hi Mario,

    Good article. Look at the abuse by San Diego Unified School District towards charter schools on district property. Under the law, prop.39, charter schools are to receive "like" facilities. The SDUSD hasn't even afforded these charters and San Diego students simple air-conditioning for their schools. Last year, some of these charter classrooms reach 105 degrees. I understand many of these charters have minority students; is this why there is no up-roar? SDUSD "for the children", really? 

    richard brick
    richard brick subscribermember

    @David I was wondering if you personally were  in the classroom that you say was 105* and made the temperature measurements? 

    How many of these charters that you say are deprived of facilities are for profit charters? And of course you played the race card very quickly.

    Charters were invented to do two things: drain money away from the public schools and to break up the teachers union.

    It's ironic to me that the lead into charter schools was that they were going to find new and effective ways to educate the students. Yet, after all these years there is very little difference in standardized test scores between charters and public schools. Please don't sing the praises of the Preuss school as all of their students tested at the highest level even before they are allowed to apply to the school. I'm not saying that Preuss is not a good school whose students score high on tests. But don't you think they should score high since their students are the best and the brightest in the county.

    bcat subscriber

    @richard brick @David 

    Charter schools were an effort to find another way other than the classic public education.  They come in many flavors.  Some escape bureaucracy by administering schools in a different way. Most cater to "special" needs:  social justice, serving the under privileged, foreign language immersion, project oriented learning.

    Charter schools are supposed to enroll like a public school - agnostic to race, ethnicity, wealth, religion.  They are supposed to get a fair shot at public facilities that are not being used. They are supposed to get the same public funding as the "standard model" public school.  What Charters can really offer is an environment where a community of students, teachers, and parents can really make the rules that they want - like an old fashioned mid-West local school as opposed to the megalith of SDUSD (14 High Schools / 130,000 students).

    Unfortunately, the practice is different than the theory.

    Preuss is discriminatory.  If the parents went to college, then the child cannot enroll.

    Preuss and others garner monies from donors, increasing the spending per pupil beyond the State reimbursed amount that SDUSD receives.

    Charters don't get a fair shot at public facilities.  I've heard administrators and BoE members literally plot to "poison" their vacant classrooms to prevent a charter from moving into an unused facility.  Several campuses are under utilized (30 - 50%).  So there is a lot of extra, quality space available.  Charters should get Proposition S money to fix what SDUSD offers them.

    Mike subscriber

    @bcat @richard brick @David Not sure why there's so much anti-Preuss school sentiment here.  Calling them "discriminatory" is a bit misleading.  Their aim is to better educate the children of parents who did not receive such college education.  It's a clearly stated, and by most accounts, a noble goal. Looking at their metrics, they are succeeding in that mission.  Calling that discriminatory is like calling homeless shelters discriminatory (of course people who have homes are not allowed...but that's sort of the point).

    Preuss does receive donor money, but so does La Jolla HS and numerous other public schools.  I think VOSD's reporting has made that clear.  Scripps Ranch HS receives very little (maybe least?) donor money, but by most measures it is also a high quality school.  So Preuss receiving donor money is neither unique nor superbly advantageous.

    bcat subscriber

    @Mike @bcat @richard brick @David 

    Preuss IS discriminatory.   No other public school in the City of San Diego is allowed to discriminate like Preuss.  Not even SPCA is allowed to turn down students that don't have the performing arts ability that meets their standards.  The question remains as to whether or not this discrimination is good or bad social policy.  While I laud their efforts to improve education amongst those with less, I am frustrated that those with some don't have similar opportunities.

    Preuss won't let my children attend.  My children have less opportunity to succeed than a Preuss student.  There are students with less opportunity than my children that will not be offered the opportunities at Preuss (take a look at Waiting for Superman ).  It is heartbreaking that opportunity is handed out randomly and in such scarcity.  What is the right distribution of opportunity?

    The AP and IB programs are not widely distributed across SDUSD.  What is the child of college graduate supposed to do to get their child an education that will enable them to compete for enrollment at top colleges?

    True, LJHS and many other campuses have fund raising efforts.  No school in San Diego compares in fund raising to the LJ Cluster where $250,000 per year is not uncommon.  However, break it down a bit.  At $90,000 per teacher (salary + benefits), that adds only three teachers to LJHS.  Hardly enough to bring classroom sizes down below 36 pupils per classroom.  That is nowhere close to the 24 - 25 pupils per class at Preuss (  That seems "unique" and "superbly advantageous" by almost any definition.

    My issue is not specifically with their discrimination.  For example, I admire Stuyvesant of NYC (  Students can only matriculate once they pass an exam!  Their alumni include several Nobel Laureates.

    The problem I have is that Preuss is shown as an example of a great school.  More schools could be great like Preuss if they collected students that were focused on college and had class sizes of 24 - 25 pupils.  To call Preuss a public school is a travesty.  It is not a bastion of equal opportunity.  It is a lottery for a small group of students.  If you either don't fit the demographic or don't win the lottery, your opportunities are severely diminished.  That seems counter to the concept of public education.  It should be privately funded or it should be non-discriminatory.

    Mike subscriber

    Waa! They won't let me join the party. Poor me. A college educated parent who can't eat at the poor kids table. Keep crying...maybe those poor families will take pity on you and let your kids in. Those social-economically disadvantaged kids are so mean to me. Waa!

    SherryS subscriber

    The implication of what you have so inelegantly stated is that if you have a college education and a decent income, you should not expect your children to get an excellent public education. Unfortunately, your attitude seems to be shared by the San Diego Unified Board of Education and the Superintendent who focus exclusively on "focus groups" of foster children, English learners and the underprivileged. Yes, I could afford to pull my kids out of public school and send them to a private school with small class sizes and adequate facilities. They could go to school with privileged children like themselves. But I don't believe that's what this country is about. I believe we should fight for an excellent public educaton for everyone.

    SherryS subscriber

    @Mike The implication of what you have so inelegantly stated is that if you have a college education and a decent income, you should not expect your children to get an excellent public education. Unfortunately, your attitude seems to be shared by the San Diego Unified Board of Education and the Superintendent who focus exclusively on "focus groups" of foster children, English learners and the underprivileged. Yes, I could afford to pull my kids out of public school and send them to a private school with small class sizes and adequate facilities. They could go to school with privileged children like themselves. But I don't believe that's what this country is about. I believe we should fight for an excellent public educaton for everyone.

    bcat subscriber


    I try not to use "Waa" as guidance for good social policy.  I try to get informed, use facts, and apply ethics.

    The point is that inconsistent policy is like a random reward.  Positive reinforcement produces strong behaviors.  Negative reinforcement often reinforces negative behavior.  Random reward creates random behavior.

    Eliminate the lottery approach to "good" education and we'll all benefit from better results.