Rigidity of surplus-property funds spending may loosen

The San Francisco Unified School District</a> would have more spending options with money gained from selling its surplus property under state legislation that is moving through Sacramento.

Under current law, school districts must use all sales revenue from such property sales for building and other capital improvements, such as structural maintenance projects.

The proposed bill, authored by Assemblymember Fiona Ma, whose district includes San Francisco, would allow the SFUSD to fund one-time purchases, such as new computers.

Of the district’s 177 properties, 20 percent are deemed surplus spaces because they’re no longer required for instruction, according to SFUSD documents. Although district officials have not quantified a value for those properties, one building at 700 Font Blvd. — the former site of the district’s School of the Arts — was auctioned off for $20 million in November.

Because Ma’s bill specifically details a six-year period stretching from July 2006 to June 2012, the district could use proceeds from the Font Boulevard sale under the new proposed capacities.

The district is interested in using some of the money from the property sales to fund technological enhancements, such as installing wireless Internet setups and purchasing more computers, district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

The bill would not act as a panacea for the district’s woeful budget outlook, Blythe said.

The district is looking at a $40 million projected shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year due to education spending cuts proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mayor Gavin Newsom has pledged to spend as much $31 million from The City’s rainy-day fund to help make up the district’s deficit, but the actual dedicated amount won’t be determined until mid-May.

“This bill is not a stop-gap fix,” Blythe said. “We can’t go out and use this money to pay teachers’ salaries.”

Blythe said the state regulates spending from property sales because it doesn’t want school districts dependent on revenue that could fluctuate from year to year.

SFUSD board President Mark Sanchez said it’s always in the district’s best interest to hold on to all its assets, but if faced with a daunting budget shortfall again, selling off properties may be the only option.

Approved unanimously by the Assembly Education Committee, AB 1934 will now move on to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. “I think it’s unfortunate that we’re always fighting for Prop. 98 funding,” Ma said, referring to a 1998 measure that requires the state to maintain minimum funding levels for education. “It would be nice if it wasn’t on the chopping block every year.”

wreisman@examiner.com

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