• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

— Those conclusions were confirmed by discussions among committee members, district employees, and other officials during the October meeting. Johnson asked for two numbers: the actual cost of repairs during the summer and the amount budgeted for that work. Speaking on behalf of the school district, William Dos Santos said he didn't have specific numbers, but "I know these contracts cost more than we planned. Our budgets were not generous."

As interim director of Proposition MM, Dos Santos might be called the substitute for the substitute. He succeeded the previous interim director, Tom Calhoun, in May after Calhoun accepted a job in Broward County, Florida. The school district had hired Dos Santos only a few months before, in March, to be director of maintenance operations. Dos Santos readily acknowledges that MM activities are bogged down. He attributes it, in part, to a shortage of workers within the Proposition MM Implementation Department. "Prop MM is a huge program. The 39 people I have is not even half the staff required. We need two to three times as much staff."

John de Beck, the lone school-board member attending the oversight committee's October meeting, chimed in: "I have a nagging concern that we'll run out of money at the end of Proposition MM. If we do, we'll never pass another bond issue." Dos Santos said he is using the summer's repair bills to estimate future costs even though the $7.8 million tile overrun skews the numbers. "This summer was extraordinary in many ways. Nevertheless, it will still give us a better measure," Dos Santos said. "Based on what I've seen, the budget wasn't even a reality. We'll have to examine every single contract critically. I hope the future is better managed."

Lack of details and the temporary management of Proposition MM trouble de Beck. Although he supports expanding and adding schools, he is one of the project's biggest gadflies. In September he asked the San Diego County Grand Jury to investigate the $7.8 million extra expense on a floor-installation contract for 25 schools. De Beck accuses Superintendent Bersin and the school district of violating California's public-contract laws. Under those regulations, the district is required to get competitive bids and unanimous approval from all school-board members for any "change order," or construction adjustment, exceeding 10 percent of a job's total, de Beck said. Although de Beck voted against spending $7.8 million for higher-quality tile, the district moved forward, saying emergency circumstances justified incurring the additional expense; without new flooring, the 25 schools wouldn't have opened in September. Dos Santos calls it a "calculated change order, a conscious decision not to install an inferior product."

De Beck concedes the state's public-contract regulations are esoteric, technical, and open to interpretation, but he insists the alleged violation be fully explored. "If we can violate public-contract law now, we can violate it throughout Prop MM. It will mean expediency rules, and public-contract law is done away with." The tile incident also highlights the potential for squandering taxpayers' money, de Beck said. He favors placing the MM staff and new director under the board of education's supervision.

Controversies of another sort are starting to trickle into neighborhoods. While parents, teachers, and children may feel the district is moving too slowly to upgrade deteriorating campuses, some San Diego residents are already facing the prospect of losing their homes.

Although Russell Draper has no children, the Golden Hill resident heeded his social conscience two years ago and voted for Proposition MM. Oblivious to the initiative's impact on property owners, Draper accidentally found out last year that the school district was considering building a new elementary school one block east of his home. On attending a community meeting in March, he learned the "preferred site" had shifted to a spot one block west of his home. "There were 100 people there. Everyone was upset," Draper recalled. "All kinds of issues came up. We asked, 'Why can't you expand at existing city schools? Why can't you use vacant land? Why can't you build smaller schools?'"

Shortly thereafter, Draper received a letter stating that his section of E Street, between 27th and 28th Streets, had become the preferred site. Draper protested that decision during the summer by contacting neighborhood and school-district officials, writing letters, and documenting the architectural value of his mission-style stucco duplex, built by Brown-Olmstead Building Construction Company in 1927. Because he thought losing his home was inevitable, Draper was surprised to hear by word of mouth in October that the preferred site changed yet again. The draft environmental impact report noted that a high-pressure fuel pipe on 28th Street would be too close to the new school, compromising state guidelines. "The funny thing is we told the school-district officials about this pipe at public meetings," Russell said. "What's important here is we were never really afforded an opportunity to present a defense. It was really a done deal. They already made up their minds."

While Draper is breathing a sigh of relief, Les Pierres Streater is sweating a little. His apartment at 1010 West 33rd Street is now in the path of Golden Hill's new elementary school. "I know the school district is offering relocation expenses, but it's difficult to find a new place and move," said Streater, a writer and community activist who serves on several school-district committees. "The site of least resistance is where they go. There are no homeowners to howl. Renters don't raise their voices that much. I don't have a problem with building some new schools, but I disagree with the process. The school district goes to the neighborhood planning groups to make the decisions. They do it behind closed doors, with smoke and mirrors. Then they will have public meetings."

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!