Follow The Money: The campaign for San Diego Unified’s $3.5 bill - The CW San Diego - News 8

Follow The Money: The campaign for San Diego Unified’s $3.5 billion bond

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Students walk across the basketball courts at Grant Elementary School in the San Diego Unified School District on Sept. 20, 2018. (Megan Burks/KPBS)

By Jill Castellano and Brad Racino | inewsource

This is the fourth of a five-part Follow The Money series by inewsource reporters Jill Castellano and Brad Racino, leading up to the Nov. 6 election. In this installment, they look at Measure YY, the San Diego Unified School District's $3.5 billion proposed bond measure.

The first three parts of this week's series were on Proposition 6, which would repeal a state gas tax increase; the SoccerCity and SDSU West measures, which would redevelop the former Qualcomm Stadium site; and Measure D, which would require elections for county offices to be decided in November. The final part, on Friday, will delve into a San Diego government transparency measure.

Each of the Follow The Money stories will air on KPBS radio and TV and are available as inewsource podcasts on iTunes. Listen to the fourth episode, read the transcript or watch the video below.

San Diego Unified bond measure Q&A

Jill: I'm Jill Castellano

Brad: And I'm Brad Racino.

Jill: This is the fourth episode in our series where we're diving into the money behind the major initiatives on the November ballot.

Brad: Today, we're talking about Proposition YY, a $3.5 billion bond measure by the San Diego Unified School District. We'll tell you what it is and why it sounds so familiar.

Jill: Heads up: This is the school district's third bond proposal in 10 years.

Brad: And then Jill will talk about the money - who's funding the ballot measure and what this could cost taxpayers.

Jill: Let's get to it.

Brad: The $3.5 billion figure sounds like a lot of money. What would San Diego Unified use it for?

Jill: A lot of it covers what you would expect, like upgrading classrooms and science labs, renovating the foundations of old buildings, improving plumbing - things like that.

Brad: OK, but weren't the school district's last two bonds supposed to pay for all that?

Jill: Voters approved a school bond in 2008 for $2.1 billion, and they approved another in 2012 for $2.8 billion. But the district says about half of all that money has already been spent, and the other half is allocated for specific projects.

Brad: So this bond is adding on to the previous bonds.

Jill: Yeah, another $3.5 billion. It's paying for upgrades to some buildings and funding projects that weren't covered through the last two bonds. Like improving school security.

Scott Barnett, the spokesman for the group supporting the bond measure, showed me around the Grant K-8 school in Mission Valley to explain what the different bonds pay for. He says: "The buildings over here were built under Proposition S in 2008 and Proposition Z in 2012. And the very old administration building and these old bungalows are all going to be replaced - new buildings, new classrooms, new administration, library - under Proposition YY."

Brad: Who's against this bond?

Jill: The San Diego County Taxpayers Association opposes it. The group actually supported that first bond measure back in 2008. But now, it says the school district shouldn't be asking for more money when we're still paying back the other bonds.

The association's president, Haney Hong, compared a school bond to a home mortgage. He says: "We've already got two mortgages to build stuff, and also now we're trying to take out another mortgage to do many of the same things. And that's what makes this very different."

Brad: How are we paying these bonds back?

Jill: I think it's time for the money segment.

This school bond will be paid for by homeowners. To be specific, if you live in the San Diego Unified district, your taxes would go up $60 for every $100,000 of your home's value.

Brad: OK, so that means if I own a home that's worth $500,000, I'd be paying $300 more every year in taxes.

Jill: Good math.

Brad: Thanks. There's a political committee that's trying to get this measure passed. How much money does it have and who's funding it?

Jill: The committee's raised more than $378,000. Its funders are described as, and I'm quoting, "A coalition of labor unions, school contractors, charter school advocates and other civic leaders."

The part to really pay attention to is "charter school advocates." About 40 percent of the funding has come from a single group - the California Charter Schools Association Advocates.

Brad: Why?

Jill: Probably because San Diego Unified has 46 public charter schools, and this bond proposal includes about $580 million to upgrade them.

Brad: Has any money been raised to oppose this bond?

Jill: Just last week, a group formed to oppose it. Carl DeMaio, the former Republican San Diego city councilman, is leading that effort. But this is so new we haven't seen any fundraising numbers yet. Don't worry - I'm keeping my eye on it.

Brad: While you're thinking about how you want to vote in November, you can visit inewsource.org or find these episodes on iTunes.

Jill: Catch us Friday when we talk about a measure that would increase San Diego's transparency in business dealings.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the full name of the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, the organization providing major funding to Measure YY.

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