A whopping $1 billion in school bond funds has been spent on facility construction, repairs, renovations and other upgrades at San Diego city schools since voters approved the first of two multibillion-dollar bond measures seven years ago.

Just 20 percent of that amount – less than $200 million – has actually gone toward projects considered major repairs or renovations to existing facilities, according to the bond program’s latest annual performance audit.

Still, the group auditing how bond money has been spent, Crowe Horwath, gave the district the all clear.

The statistic does, however, mirror what we already know: that thus far, student technology, athletic stadiums and other ribbon cutting-worthy projects have taken priority over urgently needed but less visible repairs, like leaky roofs, stuffy classrooms and asbestos. Those needs still remain across the district.

The good news: There are still billions of dollars to go around when the district finishes issuing all $4.9 billion in voter-approved Proposition S and Z debt, and $800 million in new money is coming to pay for new projects over the next two years.

Though the latest bond spending plan approved by the school board last month doesn’t reveal exactly how much will be spent on major repairs this time around, district staff estimates it’ll account for 22 percent, or $180 million. Roughly a status quo portion.

Most of those repairs will be paid for using the largest pot of money – about $350.6 million – set aside for a broad category called school-site modernization, which can include major repairs or new construction or both. More than a dozen campuses will get new buildings or plumbing, electrical, interior and exterior building repairs, kitchen and restroom renovations and more.

The next largest chunk of change – $122.5 million – will be spent on air conditioners, thanks to the school board’s decision to push them up on the priority list.

More than $90 million will go to various charter school projects, including a new $790,000 track and field and $14.4 million modernization at O’Farrell Charter School in Encanto.

A joint-use off-campus living science lab that will serve as a field trip destination and headquarters for the nonprofit Ocean Discovery Institute will cost the district $13.9 million, while another $40 million will be spent on new solar panels and other sustainable energy projects.

The new spending plan still carves out significant funds for technology and athletic facilities, too.

More than $49 million is budgeted for athletic facilities and turf fields, including an initial $3 million for pools operated by the YMCA, and $72 million will go toward new technology.

Here’s a visual of how the district plans to slice up the next round of bond money.

Technology and athletic projects are poised to take a smaller piece of the pie compared with how the district spent the first $900 million or so in bond funds. College, career and technical education projects will also get a smaller chunk of bond funds.

As for the $200 million the auditor said has already been spent on major repairs to date, the district is short on specifics about what that included.

The district’s bond program spokeswoman Cynthia Reed-Porter said they don’t have a report with that information, even though the data in the audit ostensibly came from the district.

Reed-Porter could only say generally that the $200 million included projects that improved accessibility and student learning, as well as some school modernization work, but not new construction. Money spent replacing old stadium bleachers with new bleachers was also counted as major repairs, but new bleachers to expand seating capacity was not.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that the latest bond spending plan was approved this month. It was approved in December. 

Ashly McGlone

Ashly is a freelance investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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