Judge puts pressure on SFUSD to finish disability access work

A federal judge has indicated she will not grant the San Francisco Unified School District an extension to finish the first round of disability access improvements required under a 2004 legal settlement.

Known as the Lopez case, the district settled the class-action lawsuit by agreeing to a rigid timeline to modernize nearly 100 of its facilities to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The deadline for the first group of 30 schools is June 30, 2007. District facilities officials, hired after the settlement, told The Examiner in September that they knew the deadline was unrealistic because it assumed that all projects would begin simultaneously. A more manageable schedule that staggered the construction work was established. The work has stayed on schedule and on budget, and work on 21 of the schools will be completed by June 2007, according to district officials.

The district’s general counsel, David Campos, said that although an official ruling has not been released, Judge Susan Illston told lawyers at a hearing Friday that she was leaning against granting the district’s request to extend the timeline for nine schools not near completion.

“I was actually very surprised. It didn’t even occur to me the judge would not grant the extension,” said David Goldin, the district’s chief facilities officer. “I thought it was very reasonable.”

Goldin said he didn’t know if the work could be accelerated at the nine remaining schools in time to meet the June deadline.

“I’m hesitant to suggest it’s even possible,” Goldin said. “It would take a significant shift of strategy that would be so dramatic and so phenomenally expensive to accelerate these projects by two years.”

If the judge is impatient with the San Francisco Unified School District, it is because problems with the SFUSD’s previous facilities officers — which included mismanagement, corruption and even fraud — resulted in the required disabilities improvements being neglected, school officials say.

School officials have expressed concern that if the district does not pass a $450 million facilities bond in November to fund disability improvements on an additional 64 schools, a federal monitor could be appointed who might require the district to sell school property or take money from the general budget.

beslinger@examiner.com

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