(TNS) — The San Diego Unified School District will ask taxpayers to approve borrowing $3.5 billion to improve school safety, technology and infrastructure.
It is the largest bond request in the district’s history and the third in the last 10 years.
Board members voted 4-0 Tuesday to place the 30-year bond, known as the “San Diego Neighborhood School Repair and Student Safety Measure,” on the November ballot.
If passed by at least 55 percent of voters, it would add 6 cents to property tax bills for every $100 of assessed valuation, or about $300 for a home valued by the county at $500,000.
According to the Safety and Learning in Our Schools, a coalition of parents, teachers and business leaders backing the measure, extra funding would help the state’s second-largest school district improve aging classrooms and bring updated technology to the classrooms, among other things.
Enhancing campus security and eliminating lead from drinking water were the driving forces behind the proposal, board members said.
Concerns about security have intensified following the deadly school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, and more recently at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead and two dozen injured earlier this year.
“This is the first bond since Sandy Hook, since Parkland,” said board President Kevin Beiser. “This bond is our response to the concerns of making our schools even more safe.”
San Diego Unified police Capt. Joey Florentino said the bond covers a wide variety of school safety needs, such as replacing smoke and heat detectors, building or repairing school fences, updating electrical systems to prevent fires, swapping out 30-year-old security cameras and revamping the district’s “incredibly antiquated alarm system.”
Extra money would replace old windows with double-pane, insulated glass that’s harder to break, and install more secure doors and locks.
“A lot of these things might be that thing that stops an intruder,” Florentino said. “It’s those first couple of minutes ... how can the students and staff protect themselves while we’re rushing to get there?”
The district serves 130,000 students at more than 200 schools.
Gov. Jerry Brown in October signed a law that requires community water systems to test drinking water for lead in all public schools that serve kindergarten through 12th grade by July 2019.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, test levels above 15 parts per billion require immediate action, which can include removing the water fixture or installing a filtration system. However, studies show there is no safe level of lead for children.
Board trustee Richard Barrera said the extra funding would help the district go above the legal requirement and almost eliminate lead from all drinking water in the district.
“We found elevated levels in a few campuses and fixed them, but the board decided they wanted to go beyond that,” Barrera said. “We decided that there should be no outlet anywhere in our district that has lead exceeding the standard for even bottled water.”
The bond marks another milestone — the district’s third borrowing request in the past decade.
San Diego Unified’s capital improvement projects are already funded by two measures known now as Proposition Z and Proposition S.
Proposition Z, the most recent measure, passed in 2012 as a similar property tax hike. Totaling $2.8 billion, its main purpose was to repair deteriorating classrooms, libraries, wiring, plumbing, bathrooms and leaky roofs, according to ballot language at the time.
If passed, all three bonds total $8.4 billion, leaving some to question where previous money has gone and why more funds are necessary.
“We’re still paying off the last two,” said John Stump, an attorney and City Heights resident. “What are they sneaking in this time?”
Bond projects and expenditures are reviewed by the district’s independent citizens’ oversight committee, or ICOC, a state-mandated group of community members and experts in government, education and construction.
According to the district’s website, two of the 11 committee seats are vacant.
As a former member of the district’s budget oversight committee, Stump said he is worried about how new funding will be allocated in the future, and how an added property tax will impact an already-troubled housing market.
“Housing in San Diego is very unaffordable,” Stump said. “It’s essentially a 30-year mortgage so it’s not just the upfront $3.5 billion that’s concerning. It’s the compounded interest over the next three decades.”
District records show Proposition S and Proposition Z money is far from gone. Officials said about $2.1 billion remains, but the funds balance has already been allocated to specific projects taking place in 2019 through 2031. Those projects include modernization of specific school facilities, building repairs and improving classroom technology.
The expenditures in 2019 total $600 million, records show. Last year’s total reached $820 million.
According to Barrera, maintaining the district’s more than 180 schools, as well as charter schools and administration facilities, is not a one-time expense. Regular deterioration of facilities district-wide costs about $120 million each year. The average age of all facilities is about 48 years.
“Any homeowner would understand this. At times, you have to fix the roof, repair the foundation, or fix the plumbing,” Barrera said. “It’s the same with schools. All of those issues require constant investment.”
Barrera said the investment asks voters to make a sacrifice for their local schools and ensure a quality education for future students.
“I understand. It is a sacrifice. There’s no question,” he said. “But if we can leave a legacy of quality schools, I think that’s worth the sacrifice. Voters have done it before and I’m confident that voters will do it again.”
Polling show the bond is likely to pass. More than 65 percent of San Diego voters support the idea.
District officials said agencies that add measures to the ballot must pay for printing expenses in the voter guides and are required to contribute to the overall cost to conduct the election. The district estimates it will cost $1 million to place the new bond on the November ballot.
Officials from the San Diego County Registrar of Voters said the cost associated with Proposition Z was about $828,000.
©2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.