San Francisco voters — who approved a $295 million school facilities bond in 2003 — voted again Tuesday to give the San Francisco Unified School District $450 million to continue its building improvement work.
“The voters of San Francisco understand the importance of having a vibrant school system, from a program perspective but also a facilities perspective,” said Phil Halperin, a former venture capitalist who spearheaded the district’s bond campaign. “We have to make our public schools a place where families want to send their kids.”
School officials said the new bond dollars are needed for facility improvements at 60 public schools — predominately disability access work mandated by a 2004 court settlement. This work is in addition to similar work being done on 30 other school sites funded through the 2003 bond.
District officials warned that a federal monitor could be appointed to accelerate disability access efforts within The City’s public schools — possibly selling school property or taking money from the district’s general budget — if the bond did not pass.
In 1997, San Franciscans also approved a $90 million facilities bond measure, which later came under question by City Controller Ed Harrington when the accounting reports turned up with inaccuracies. The city office had performed the review partially due to revelations that previous bond money had been mismanaged and misspent in the prior years.
Harrington subsequently gave his approval to the district’s new accounting systems and accountability oversight efforts, which have been managed by administrators hired during the tenure of former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.
Board of Education President Norman Yee said it took “a little convincing” to get The City’s business community, civic leaders, politicians, parents and others on board with this school bond, but eventually the school district was able to convince them that “we needed it, we could handle it, and that the leadership is all together on this.”
Even though this bond passed, the school board should think long and hard before trying to get more building money from San Francisco voters, said Wade Randlett, president of SFSOS, a downtown advocacy group. Randlett said he resigned from a citizens advisory group overseeing the implementation of the 2003 bond because he saw most of the money going to disability improvements and not much going into modernization efforts that would make the schools better for all students.
“If you’re asking for too much, too soon, that degrades enthusiasm for public education,” Randlett said.