The San Diego Unified school board last year set out ambitious goals to ensure that local workers would be hired to build and renovate schools, including laborers from low-income parts of the city.

But so far, it has fallen short of those goals. And the school district has no easy way to fix it.

Getting local workers was a key feature of the controversial labor agreement on its $2.1 billion school construction bond.

San Diego Unified set steep goals, saying that 35 percent of workers would come from targeted zip codes in lower-income areas (such as City Heights, Paradise Hills, Southcrest and Clairemont Mesa), 70 percent would come from areas in San Diego Unified and all workers would be from San Diego County. When the agreement was struck, several sources familiar with construction told us that the goals were strikingly high compared with other agreements in California.

“We want to make sure that the people who are actually putting money into [the bond] are getting taken care of first,” said school board member Shelia Jackson.

The school district has only hired about half as many workers from the district and targeted areas as it had hoped. As of the end of September, 17 percent of workers came from the targeted zip codes, 36 percent came from within the district and 88 percent came from the county.

“I don’t think it’s lived up to what it was supposed to do,” said school board member Katherine Nakamura, who opposed the labor agreement.

It is still early in the construction program: The numbers only include 10 projects out of a construction program that is expected to include more than 200 projects. While voters approved the bond two years ago, the labor pact didn’t kick in until this year, after other projects were already underway.

George Harris III, who oversees contracts compliance for the school district, said they are tracking the numbers, but have no way to actually enforce the rules with companies and union hiring halls. The goals are just that — goals — and not an obligation.

“We’re not going to hold their money or disqualify them from future projects or anything like that,” Harris said.

It is unclear how the numbers compare to the last bond, which didn’t have a labor agreement. Spokeswoman Cynthia Reed-Porter said the school district didn’t track the number of local workers under that bond, but she estimated that over 90 percent of the money went to local companies.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter:

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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