San Diego voters have approved one of the biggest school bonds in California history.

District voters approved Proposition Z 59 percent to 40 percent with 87 percent of precincts reporting. The measure needed 55 percent of the vote to pass. The vote clears the way for San Diego Unified to raise up to $2.8 billion to spend repairing and upgrading schools and continuing to invest in technology in classrooms.

The bond will be repaid by a new tax hike of $60 on every $100,000 of assessed property value in the district.

Backers billed the bond as a crucial protection for the district’s day-to-day budget, which would otherwise be hit by looming expiring state funding for technology and maintenance programs. Passing the bond would help keep teachers in the classroom, they said, and pump money into the district’s crumbling infrastructure and facilities.

Local labor unions, developers and construction companies donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Yes on Z campaign.

The San Diego Taxpayers Association mounted the most intense opposition to the measure. Billing the bond as a “Zombie Tax,” the association pointed at the district’s past bond spending as evidence that it shouldn’t be trusted with more taxpayer money.

Exemplifying that attack was an ad criticizing the district for financing the purchase of iPads with costly 40-year financing, which means the district will end up paying as much as $2,500 per iPad. (We fact-checked that claim and found to be mostly true.)

But San Diego voters seem to be unswayed by the district’s past spending habits.

The message that local schools need more money hit home with local voters. After years of cuts to state education funding and recent proclamations from the superintendent and school board that the district was on the brink of insolvency, voters chose to invest in local schools, said Board Trustee Richard Barrera.

“It’s a fantastic statement by the people in San Diego that they support our schools,” Barrera said. “It’s money out of their pockets, for some people a few hundred dollars a year. That’s a big investment.”

School board member Scott Barnett said the new bond will do little to ease the pressure on San Diego Unified’s day-to-day budget. The bulk of the money will be spent on new school buildings, facilities, solar panels and maintenance.

“It’s not going to solve our financial problems,” said Barnett, a strong supporter of the bond. “It’s one little teeny factor.”

Nevertheless, Prop. Z’s success was “fabulous news,” Barnett said. Local kids will benefit from scores of planned construction projects and from the district’s continued commitment to providing the best technology to classrooms and improving and updating district facilities, he said.

“It’s the one bright point in a dismal economic situation,” Barnett said.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless

Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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