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For the past couple of months we’ve been looking closely at how San Diego Unified is spending funds from Prop. S and Prop. Z, two voter-approved bond measures that will bring the district around $5 billion.
Along the way, we’ve highlighted several points of tension. Much of the blowback can be distilled this way: The bond project construction that’s taken place so far doesn’t match what taxpayers expected when they voted on the measures.
Most recently, I explored why $107 million has been spent on athletic facilities, while repairs — like this leaky ceiling at Hoover High — wait in the backlog. This photo came to us via Hoover High’s head custodian, Michael Shefcik:
District officials said the story overlooked all the good things being done with bond money. Sure, much work remains, but overall, kids now have access to more technology, better facilities and more comfortable classrooms than they did in 2008, before bond spending began.
It’s true our stories haven’t showcased the entire range of bond projects. I’ve visited schools to check out projects, but readers can’t see the good, bad and ugly. So let’s take a closer look.
Hoover High seems like a fine place to start. Basically, a good part of the campus is just worn out. Behind San Diego High, it’s the district’s oldest high school. Its age is most apparent in the 1200 building, where you can see traffic patterns on the concrete leading up the stairs. Apparently that’s what happens when students walk the same arc over 85 years.
The building’s doors are pretty dated, too. Shefcik said they have trouble securing the facility from break-ins at night. And classroom doors would be difficult to secure in the case of a school shooting, Shefcik said.
Here are students being pals during passing period.
Below is the New Arrivals Center, a program for students who recently moved from other countries. It’s one of several in the district where students pick up skills and context that helps them make the transition to San Diego Unified. There’s one problem: It gets really hot in there. Eliza Getch, who leads the program at Hoover, says sunlight comes in the east-facing windows and bakes the classroom. After 11 a.m., she said it’s often so hot she needs to ask librarians if her class can take up some space in the air-conditioned library.
Air conditioning 2,000 of the district’s hottest classrooms is one initiative San Diego Unified has prioritized. Since 2009, San Diego Unified has spent at least $93 million on ACs. Getch’s classroom was not one to benefit.
Hoover High is old. But it also has cool history, some of which is preserved in the gym. On one wall hang giant portraits of Hoover legends, famous alumni like baseball great Ted Williams. And of course the San Diego Chicken.
The district has caught flak for spending on new athletic facilities while repairs wait in backlog. On the other hand, Shefcik said that Hoover’s old stadium was abysmal. That’s not the case anymore.
Improvements to athletic facilities — including additional seating, a new concession stand and press box — cost $15.1 million. Another $2 million went to a new track and synthetic field.
It’s a similar situation at Mission Bay High, which cut the ribbon on an $11 million stadium last month.
Before the upgrades, the field was often pocked with gopher holes, one speaker recalled. Gophers will no longer take refuge on the new synthetic turf field. The ceremony was well-received by students and the district staff members who made the project happen. Students cheered. Band music bumped. Butterflies were released at one point, which symbolized something.
Tim Daly waved a flag.
Despite the new stadium, much of the rest of Mission Bay High is dim and weary. Ernest Remillard, Mission Bay’s principal, said the stadium has been the focal point of scheduled repairs. Now, school leaders will start planning its whole site modernization, a campus-wide renovation project.
I met Melissa Romero in her 10th grade English classroom, preparing for an open house. Next to Romero are new desks, paid for with bond funds, which can be arranged in clusters. It’s a nice alternative to the traditional “cemetery rows.” A portion of bond money ($18.7 million, so far) has gone to individual schools as discretionary funds, which principals decide how to spend. At Mission Bay, a chunk of this money went to new furniture.
This classroom, where students in the school’s robitics team meets, needs some work. Remillard expects this area will get some attention during the whole site modernization.
Aside from repairs and construction, the district has prioritized four kinds of projects: technology, air conditioning, athletic facilities and “career, career and technical education,” or CCTE projects. The idea behind CCTE is to blend academics with job-skill training. Since 2009, the district has spent $119 million on CCTE projects. Some costs were offset by grants.
You see some this work at San Diego High. Here’s a professional-grade kitchen, for example, where students learn culinary skills.
The $1.8 million multimedia lab looks like a smaller version of a professional studio, complete with a control room where students can learn production skills. Students in the School of Media, Visual and Performing Arts — one of the small schools within a school at San Diego High — have a chance to learn broadcast journalism techniques.
It’s impressive work. Unfortunately, the investment wasn’t enough to draw students to the program. The school board voted last month to close San Diego High’s School of Media, Visual and Performing Arts due to declining enrollment.
The broadcast journalism component will be folded into another program, so the studio will still get some use, but the closure makes clear that good facilities, without good academics, won’t keep a program alive and thriving.
Our last stop is Fulton K-8, in the Skyline Community. Last week students and staff cut the ribbon on a new $760,000 synthetic field, which replaced the decomposed granite lot kids used to play on. Word on the street is many knees were skinned on the old playground.
Superintendent Cindy Marten and school board president Marne Foster came to congratulate the kids on their new field. Students wiggled quietly in their seats as the adults spoke. Teachers were going to let them play on that new field when speakers wrapped up.
This boy tried so hard to listen.
When it was finally time to cut the ribbon, district spokesperson Cynthia Reed-Porter chose a few kids who looked they might be handy with scissors.
Now that’s a field.
Photos of Hoover High, Mission Bay High and Fulton K-8 by Dustin Michelson; San Diego High photos by Jamie Scott Lytle.