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San Diego Unified is in danger of slipping behind on school repairs if it doesn’t find a steady source of funding for fixes, the overseers of the district’s $2.1 billion renovation bond told the school board today. The school district was supposed to do that years ago. It hasn’t.

The problem is a perennial one that has grown even more pressing in a budget crisis. The school district shelled out roughly $377 million under the last bond that voters approved, which improved schools’ condition slightly, but still left them in poor shape. It is now relying on state grants to help pay for repairs — but that money runs out in 2013. It plans to spend $501 million under its new bond to help mop up the overdue repairs, but it also has to find other funding — at least $23 million a year — to continue keeping schools in decent shape.

While schools are required to put aside a fraction of their regular budgets for repairs, California has relaxed those rules during budget cuts. Besides the bond money, San Diego Unified is paring back its spending on major school repairs to just $4 million next year, according to Chief Financial Officer James Masias. That’s a big drop from the roughly $30 million it would otherwise have to spend.

Another problem is that bond money is also being delayed and depleted. Because property values have dropped, the school district is getting bond money more slowly, forcing it to delay projects. It has chosen to keep technology at the forefront of the bond and push repairs back, which will ultimately make them more expensive. And it shouldn’t bank on another, future school bond to pay for them, warned oversight committee member Leonard Pinson.

If San Diego Unified doesn’t find a new, consistent source of money for school repairs that provides at least $23 million a year by 2013, the oversight committee projected that schools would still be in poor or only middling shape after the school bond repairs had been wrapped up in 18 years.

“Even with $23 million we’re underfunding it,” said committee member John Gordon.

But if budget cuts keep going, finding that money could be a problem. The school board didn’t take any action today. Oversight committee members plan to return with ideas on how to find the funding, but when that will happen is not yet clear.

— EMILY ALPERT

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