A meeting of the San Diego Unified school board / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

As San Diego Unified School District staff pitch a new $3.5 billion school bond measure that could go before voters this November, they’re blaming the state for conditions they say require a third multibillion-dollar bond measure in 10 years.

A presentation given to the Board of Trustees Tuesday night said, “State budget cuts in education forced the District to defer repairs.”

It’s not the first time the district has pointed to Sacramento as a source of its budget woes.

Still, the latest claim is a bit surprising given the influx of funds from the state in recent years, bolstered largely by the state’s Local Control Funding Formula, district records show.

When Gov. Jerry Brown announced a 2018-2019 state budget deal earlier this month, he prominently touted the fact that the deal “makes record investments in schools.”

So what state budget cuts is the district talking about?

District spokeswoman Maureen Magee said in an email that the mention refers to state cuts that took place several years ago – during the Great Recession.

The cuts “refer to the rounds of funding cuts that took place around the Great Recession, which impacted the district’s ability to perform maintenance and repairs,” Magee wrote. “The current budget passed and soon to be signed by the governor finally brings funding back to 2007 levels. While the district celebrates that achievement and appreciates the amount of legislative work behind this commitment, it does not undo the fact that schools have been operating under less than adequate funding for many years, forcing district leaders to make difficult choices between maintaining physical structures and educating children.”

But San Diego Unified financial records show revenues to the district’s general fund – which pays for operating expenses – rebounded much sooner than 2019.

General fund revenues did drop dramatically in 2010 and reached a low of $1.03 billion in 2013. They remained below 2008 levels until 2015, when revenues rose above $1.2 billion. Since then, revenues have climbed even higher, topping $1.3 billion in 2018. They are expected to reach $1.33 billion in 2019, district financial records approved Tuesday show.

State revenues in the general fund, specifically, rose from less than $923 million in 2014, the year the new state funding formula took effect, to nearly $1.18 billion in 2018. State revenues are expected to surpass $1.2 billion next year, despite drops in student enrollment, according to the district’s latest estimates.

In the years since the Great Recession, the district has already passed two other multibillion-dollar bond measures – Props. S and Z, passed in 2008 and 2012, totaling $4.9 billion.

The district has only spent $1.7 billion of those dollars, but officials say a new tax hike is necessary to make the repairs needed.

It wants to use the new $3.5 billion bond to pay for things like new plumbing to remove lead from school water sources, as well as school safety upgrades and asbestos removal, among other things. Many of the items on the 2018 bond project list were already included in the 2008 and 2012 bond measures.

The $3.5 billion bond proposal will return to the Board of Trustees July 10, when it is expected to place it on the November ballot.

Ashly is a freelance investigative reporter. She formerly worked as a staff reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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