If voters reject plan, federal monitor may be put in power to enforce ADA
A federal monitor could be appointed to speed up disability access changes at San Francisco’s public schools — possibly by selling school property or taking money from the general budget — if voters do not pass a $450 million facilities bond measure this November, school representatives warn.
In 2004, the San Francisco Unified School District settled a federal class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of disabled students, which imposed a rigid timeline for the district to modernize nearly 100 of its facilities to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The action, known as the Lopez case, was first filed in 1999. In 2003, the district put a $295 million facilities bond in front of San Francisco voters “with an eye toward settling” the Lopez case, according to local venture capitalist Phil Halperin, a public school supporter who is helping to promote the bond.
Halperin met with The Examiner, along with several district officials, including facilities chief David Goldin and the head of policy and planning, Myong Leigh, to outline the goals of the 2006 bond that will go before voters in less than two months.
The 2003 bond promised to repair and rehabilitate school facilities to current accessibility standards, but also make safety and modernization improvements.
District officials only planned on using that 2003 bond to cover 30 of the 94 schools listed for improvements under the Lopez settlement, according to district documents. Two-thirds of the Lopez settlement schools have not yet been touched and will require such accessibility work as striping andsignage for disabled parking, installation of ramps and the realignment of countertops.
If the district isn’t able to finish the work outlined in the Lopez settlement, then the federal judge on the case could assign what’s known as a “special master” who could require the district to sell some of its valuable school property or “literally take money out of the classroom to put it into wheelchair ramps,” Halperin said.
Getting two massive bond measures passed within just a few years may be a challenge for the school district. Even Mayor Gavin Newsom, who endorsed the school bond on Thursday, was reluctant to offer his support a few weeks ago, noting to reporters that he had spent “a lot of time trying to understand where the money’s gone on the existing bond.”
Although the ADA was passed in 1990, problems in the district’s facilities department — which included mismanagement, corruption, and in a few instances, fraud — resulted in the required disabilities improvements being neglected.
According to the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, Guy Wallace, the district could have used more money from the 2003 bond to take care of accessibility needs, but instead used some of the money for general improvements and modernization.