For the third time in the last 10 years, voters in the San Diego Unified School District are being asked to approve a school improvement bond.
In November they’ll decide on Proposition Y-Y, a $3.5 billion bond that will increase property taxes by $60 per $100,000 of assessed home value for 39 years.
The District is presenting Prop Y-Y as part of its master plan to make all schools a place where students can feel safe.
“This bond measure will allow us to complete work that has started 10 years ago,” said Trustee Richard Barrera, who claims the measure also would “allow us to respond to things that have happened in society since we passed a measure in 2012.”
Barrera pointed to the mass school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Barrera said the new bond would pay for a master security plan for every school “that would provide physical security that can be very important in terms of slowing down a situation that might be underway.”
Barrera also said in the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, more attention has to be paid to the discovery of lead in the drinking water in some San Diego schools.
“We’re committed to actually bringing our water in our schools down to a level to what is in bottled water or even cleaner,” he said.
He added that “to secure the facilities, to make sure we completely eliminate lead In the water, that costs money, that’s what this bond will allow us to do.”
The San Diego County Taxpayers Association opposes the measure.
“No one wants worse security in the schools,” said President Haney Hong, but he said voters do not have a line item veto, and must take the bond as a whole, not in pieces. “This is the third time they’re going to the taxpayer asking for money to do a lot of the same stuff, said Hong. “They’ve already got two mortgages…This is like taking a third mortgage on the back of taxpayers.”
Hong said based on the Association’s analysis “There’s a lot of the same maintenance that’s going to get funded with money already given them by the taxpayers, and that’s a challenge. That’s a problem.”
Barrera’s answer to that argument is that “This is a different house,” with different projects that need to be done.
“The money has been spent or allocated from the previous two bond measures, but those projects are not the entire slate of projects that need to be done in a district that has 200 campuses. This bond has been managed incredibly well. We have had perfect audits over the last seven years. We have the highest bond rating a school district can have with investors and the Taxpayers Association themselves have given us awards for transparency,” he said.
Barrera blames politics for the Taxpayers Association is not supporting the bond.
“The board has made the decision that if a school bond measure is done with union workers who have benefits they will not support that because they have contractors on their board who don’t want to support that,” he said.
Barrera says the Taxpayers Association’s analysis has nothing to do with whether this is good for the taxpayers, which is the purpose of that organization and says “every other taxpayer advocate is supporting this bond.”
That includes, Barrera says, the Middle-Class Taxpayers Association and even members of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.
Hong said fair and open competition is just one of many components considered when deciding whether to support or oppose a measure.
“When we oppose something it’s because it doesn’t meet our criteria, and they did not demonstrate they could effectively deliver.”
Hong said “Money does not grow on trees. We, the taxpayer, only have so much money we can keep giving to various governments to solve problems. We don’t want homeless on the street, we don’t want our roads crumbling. We have a lot of priorities and there’s only so much money governments can keep asking the taxpayer for.”
Barrera said, “What voters tell us is we know it’s a sacrifice to invest in our schools, but we’re willing to do it because we know the work has to be done.”