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District Says It’ll Take Millions More on Top of Multibillion-Dollar Bonds to Improve School Buildings

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.

San Diego Unified officials expect the average condition of school buildings to improve from poor to fair by July 2024, but they’ll need more money than what two existing multibillion-dollar bond measures will provide, a new district report shows.

A report created for the citizens’ bond oversight committee shows officials are counting on large infusions of cash from the state, the district’s general fund and other unspecified sources in the coming years in order to reach and maintain a “fair” rating on the Facility Condition Index, an industry standard for assessing the state of a group of facilities.

There are no guarantees that extra money will materialize as local and state officials curtail spending.

The FCI is calculated by dividing the cost of all repair, replacement and renovation needs across the district’s 15.2 million square feet of buildings by the current replacement value of all district facilities.

An FCI below 6 percent is considered good. Between 6 and 10 percent is fair, and above 10 percent is poor. An FCI above 30 percent is considered critical, or in need of urgent, immediate repair or replacement.

The scores are supposed to help building owners prioritize projects and monitor changing conditions over time.

The latest data gives San Diego Unified an overall FCI of 20.1 percent — 2.6 percentage points better than last year, but still in the poor zone.

The new report provides just a single districtwide FCI number, but no ratings for individual schools. Back in February 2013, school FCI numbers showed just 33 out of 196 district sites were in good condition, and nearly two dozen sites were critical.

In the best shape was La Jolla High and Brooklyn Child Development Center, both with FCIs of 1.1 percent. In worst shape was De Portola Middle School at 43.8 percent, and Oak Park Elementary at 40.9 percent.

Voice of San Diego has unsuccessfully sought updated school FCI figures from the district for weeks, so it is unclear what progress has been made in recent years at each school. No updated figures have been provided to the bond oversight committee, despite committee member requests for new numbers.

When voters approved the $2.8 billion Proposition Z bond measure in 2012, the district’s overall FCI was reportedly 18 percent. It was 15 percent when voters passed the $2.1 billion Proposition S bond in 2008, although district officials last year said they believe both of those numbers were too low and didn’t account for all the deterioration that existed at the time.

Since then, some repairs were done and new classrooms were built, but other classrooms and structures have languished – even as more than $100 million in bond money was spent on athletic stadiums and millions more on technology like classroom iPads.

“Politicians prefer to spend money on projects the public can see, touch and feel,” former San Diego Unified school board trustee Scott Barnett, who campaigned for Prop. Z, told us last year. “Sports facilities, theaters, new classrooms, high-tech iPads, etc as opposed to roofs, boilers, unseen pipes and plumbing, etc. … There are never press conferences or ribbon-cuttings for new roofs or parking-lot repaving.”

District officials reported spending $169 million last fiscal year on major repair and replacement projects that improve the FCI. They plan to spend more on those needs this year, reaching nearly $211.7 million, records show.

Barnett said during the campaign to pass Prop. Z that the bond money would cause the FCI to improve to 4 percent.

The new report shows planned Prop. S and Z bond spending through 2033 — when the money runs out — is not going to do that, and even additional money won’t get the index down that far.

If all goes according to plan, San Diego Unified’s FCI will drop below 10 percent midway through 2024, and drop to 7 percent midway through 2027. But that will require money from the district and the state that’s far from guaranteed.

To keep facilities on the path to improvement, facilities officials are budgeting general fund spending for repairs at $31 million to $33 million annually through 2024, and more in later years, the new report shows. In years past, anticipated district spending on repairs reached as high as $41.4 million and dipped to as little as $2 million, earlier reports show, although it’s unclear if those figures reflect actual spending.

Current expectations don’t necessarily jibe with spending cuts that school board members are eyeing in order to close a $124 million funding gap. Spending cuts under consideration could negatively impact facilities.

The maintenance office is expected to lose 21 workers and $2 million in funding next year, while custodians are expected to lose $9.2 million in funding, resulting in the loss of 64 workers, district records show. Landscapers will lose $1.5 million from their budget and 21 full-time workers, 25 percent of their 84-person workforce.

District consultant Larry Goshorn said in a Feb. 9 email the district has been “more proactive than most districts” in funding repairs and maintenance with the general fund over the years.

Goshorn said maintenance includes “replacing air filters, unclogging sinks, cleaning out rain gutters, and such — important activities needed to minimize repair of broken things (like leaky roofs, broken intercoms, broken ventilation systems, etc.) and replacement of worn out things (like old boilers, fences, roofs, paved play yards, gym bleachers, etc.).”

On top of district contributions, officials are planning to receive $245 million by 2024 and more than $668 million by 2032 from the state or “other revenue” to improve facilities.

In November, California voters passed a statewide school construction bond, Proposition 51. The first funds from that bond should come in the fall, after Gov. Jerry Brown changes the way the money is allocated. Though it’s unclear what exactly will be changed, Brown has said the existing first-come, first-served system unfairly favors larger districts, like San Diego Unified.

San Diego Unified facilities chief Lee Dulgeroff did not respond to questions.

The new report will go to the citizens’ bond oversight construction subcommittee for discussion March 2. The district skipped the last two quarterly reports without explanation.

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