San Diego Unified trustees are allowing school district officials to run their new $2.1 billion facilities bond — but they’re keeping them on a short leash.

Trustees agreed Tuesday night to hire three outside groups as manpower for managing Proposition S, as staffers had requested, but trimmed back their contracts to a single year so they could reassess how well the plan worked, instead of signing a three-year contract.

“Staff is more or less asking us to take a leap of faith,” said school board member Richard Barrera, adding, “I’m wiling to take that leap for one year.”

The question of whether to use the outside groups as bona fide directors or mere manpower (or womanpower) erupted at a Monday meeting, where former Taxpayers Association President Scott Barnett lobbied for the board to give more authority to the outside groups. Staffers proposed bringing in three management teams as an “augmentation team” working under the direction of Stuart Markey, the newly hired overseer of Proposition S, and of other San Diego Unified officials.

Barnett argued that the model would discourage outside groups from challenging staffers on their advice. He questioned whether San Diego Unified staffers have sufficient expertise to oversee the sizable bond program.

Markey countered that giving more power to management companies would reduce the oversight from San Diego Unified and that staffers had plenty of experience from running the last bond, Proposition MM.

The last bond czar, Lou Smith, likewise said that outsourcing the management could be risky.

“My thing is, these are the taxpayers’ dollars,” he said. “I never wanted to get to a point where we had contractors overseeing contractors overseeing contractors.”

The school board voted 3-2 to pass the shortened contracts, with members John de Beck and Katherine Nakamura dissenting. Nakamura felt the staffers had not given the board enough clear information.

EMILY ALPERT

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