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Remember that whole back-and-forth over how much, exactly, San Diego Unified has in deferred maintenance? Those overdue repairs that get put aside when budgets drop or when other needs take priority?

The question of how big the problem is has proved sticky at San Diego Unified, alarming the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, which is concerned by the backlog.

Proponents of the new facilities bond are trying to clear up the confusion and win support from the Taxpayers Association with the help of a simple one-page document that breaks down the different kinds of repairs needed, and how much San Diego Unified spent on repairs during the last facilities bond, Proposition MM.

The Taxpayers Association hasn’t given its verdict yet.

Confused? Let me jog your memory: A year ago, the school district estimated the repair backlog at more than $600 million. That number chagrined the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, which asked why the repairs hadn’t been mopped up during MM.

Critics said a promise had been broken. The school district argued it hadn’t.

Fast forward to this year. As San Diego Unified looks at a newer, possibly bigger facilities bond to succeed Proposition MM, the undone repairs were still a worry for the Taxpayers Association. And the school district was quoting a far smaller number for its deferred maintenance problem — a trimmer $104 million — and saying that the $600 million-plus number included other projects that weren’t really deferred maintenance.

Taxpayers Association President Lani Lutar said the school district was either clueless or “playing games with the numbers.” When it comes to public works projects, them’s fightin’ words. And the confusion persisted. A month later, Lutar was still worried that the new number seemed unreasonable.

So the outside consultants handling the bond campaign hammered out a simple one-pager that breaks down the repair and renovation numbers.

They total nearly $700 million. The smaller $104 million number that caused the confusion is from a state deferred maintenance program list that isn’t an exhaustive rundown of every necessary repair, said Scott Barnett, who is consulting the campaign and was once the Taxpayers Association president.

Which number do you use — $600-plus million or $104 million? It depends on how you define the problem — and there haven’t been consistent definitions of what deferred maintenance means. But Barnett hopes the list, which was sent to the Taxpayers Association, will help smooth over the confusion and win the group’s endorsement for the facilities bond.

Check back next week for the latest in the deferred maintenance saga.

EMILY ALPERT

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