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Statement: “It’s based on the most recent report that was presented to the committee that said that zero — zero — has been spent on major repair and replacement projects,” San Diego County Taxpayers Association CEO Lani Lutar said during the Sept. 29 debate with school board member Scott Barnett.

Determination: Misleading

Analysis: On Sept. 29, Barnett and Lutar squared off in a debate about Proposition Z, a ballot measure San Diego Unified School District hopes will fund additional school repairs and renovations without hurting its day-to-day budget. (Check out a recent parents’ guide by VOSD’s Will Carless for more details.)

At the debate, Barnett and Lutar repeatedly sparred over how the district has spent funds collected through a $2.1 billion general-obligation bond, Proposition S, passed by voters four years ago.

Lutar said the district has not spent all of the money it sought in the previous measure and that the district appears to have invested more Prop. S money in iPads for students than on major upgrades to school buildings.

“The question is: Do we want to approve (a) $2.8 billion bond when you have a school district, a school board that doesn’t fulfill its promises and can’t be trusted?” Lutar said.

Lutar is correct that a recent report to the bond oversight committee shows that, as of June, the district had spent $0 on major repairs and replacement.

That’s despite the district’s 2008 campaign pledges to spend bond money on deteriorating infrastructure and dangerous classrooms and facilities.

We decided to check on the district’s Prop. S spending to find out where the money has gone. Has the district truly spent the majority of its bond money on iPads rather than improvements at schools?

As of mid-September, the district says it had spent more than $379 million of its Prop. S funds. About 11 percent of that has been used to buy iPads, computers and other technologies, according to figures released by school officials.

Meanwhile, Prop. S paid for $139 million in urgent repairs at schools, including $55.1 million in repairs and replacements and $84.2 million in capital improvements to school buildings, said Lee Dulgeroff, director of facilities, planning and construction for the school district.

He and other district leaders cited several projects Prop. S money has supported, including the replacement of aging bungalows with permanent classroom buildings. For example, the district spent about $6 million to replace 20 bungalows at Hoover High School with a 20-classroom building.

In some cases, the district was able to secure matching federal funds, such as on a project to remodel a School of Business, Academy of Finance classroom at San Diego High School.

The project, which was completed in August 2010, cost the district $457,294, Dulgeroff said.

Here’s a look at what the classroom looked like before and after the construction work. The photos were provided by the San Diego Unified School District.

But what about the June report to the Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee that Lutar cited? It does, after all, show $0 spent under “Major Repair & Replacement.”

The district says that document was an incomplete draft, and a spokesman said the categories are arbitrary. That explains how the business classroom, for example, could get an extensive makeover without a single dollar registering in the “Major Repair & Replacement” category.

“The point is there’s overlap in major repair and replacement,” said District Chief of Staff Bernie Rhinerson.

Documentation provided to the bond oversight committee by the district in 2010 defined major repairs as projects that generally last more than 20 years while general upgrades have a shorter life expectancy.

He said the district has budgeted about $13.8 million for the major repairs category this year.

Lutar questioned why the report remains on the citizen group’s website if it’s inaccurate or premature, and why the district would have cited incomplete information in the document in the first place.

“All I know is there was a report that shows $0 spent on major repairs and replacement,” she said. “I’m going off of an official document.”

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Lisa Halverstadt is the newest reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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