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Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007 | Good story but several inaccuracies. Here’s what I know:

San Diego Unified’s $258 million in estimated deferred maintenance backlog of 1998 was a “politically adjusted SWAG”. That’s to say the original estimate was a SWAG hastily put together by Maintenance and Operations after a quick review of some 30 sites and then extrapolating across the district. The figure (I don’t recall the exact number) was then adjusted downward to make it politically palatable.

In 2002, I brought in a consultant, 3D International, to conduct the first-ever comprehensive facilities condition assessment. After reviewing the entire district, they concluded that based on the condition and/or the age of existing equipment, we had an approximately $500 million backlog of needed work. From that time on, I did a considerable amount of research to determine the appropriate level of funding for maintenance and repair. The best, most comprehensive document that I found came from the Federal Facilities Council Standing Committee on Operations and Maintenance titled “Budgeting for Facilities Maintenance and Repair Activities” and dated 1996. Their report No. 131 recommends a funding level of between 2 percent and 4 percent of current replacement value for maintenance and repair. In about 2004, I presented the $62 million requirement based on 2 percent of $3.1 billion (our estimate of the replacement value of district infrastructure at the time). The estimated replacement value has grown by more than 25 percent since then.

The inherent problem with bond funding of maintenance and repair is that you become reliant on bonds for basic ongoing needs. That’s like taking out a loan and spreading it out across several years for getting basic maintenance work done around your house. It can be workable but it is bad economics and falls apart suddenly if you can’t get the loan.

Bottom line, it costs to properly maintain facilities, and the district, this and prior administrations, have been unwilling to appropriately invest in infrastructure maintenance. Instead, they have chosen to lie to themselves that the number is imprecise, it can’t be that big, we can get by with less ….You are correct in stating that it’s a common problem. The politics are such that it is easier to build new than to maintain and repair existing.

I agree with Jim Watts that the district has generally used Proposition MM funds appropriately. What it has failed to do is make a commitment to ongoing maintenance and repair that will sustain what Proposition MM repaired.

Final observation is that neither Superintendent Carl Cohn nor Chief Administrative Officer José Betancourt had (or have) taken much of an interest in the follow-on bond. Without the full buy-in from the current administration, the next proposition is bound to lose.

Dos Santos is San Diego Unified School District’s former maintenance director.

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