Voters in the San Diego Unified School District have given their stamp of approval for a $3.5 billion bond proposal, the district's largest ever bond measure and the third approved since 2008.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that about 62 percent of voters supported the ballot question.
The money will pay for school facility renovations, repairs and safety upgrades, the reduction of lead in drinking water and new facilities for athletics, visual or performing arts and career or technical education. The proposal also includes $588 million specifically for charter schools.
The district plans to sell about $350 million worth of bonds in the spring and break ground on its first construction projects in the summer, district spokesperson Andrew Sharp says. The first projects will likely involve removing lead from water and making schools safer from intruders.
Superintendent Cindy Marten says she thinks the district’s past performance with bond projects helped persuade voters to pass the $3.5 billion request.
“I’m very grateful for what this says about San Diego,” Marten says. “For me to be able to see what we’re able to do in terms of infrastructure and building the world-class learning environments that will sustain us long into the future is very exciting.”
Critics of the proposal included the chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party, the two unsuccessful election challengers to incumbent school board members, and the leader of the group Community Voices for Education, which has pushed for reform of San Diego Unified’s school board election process.
School bond measures have been easier to pass in California since 2000, when voters approved Proposition 39, which lowered the approval threshold for school bond measures from two-thirds to 55 percent. Once that bar was lowered, 85 percent of school bond measures successfully passed between 2001 and 2016, according to the California Local Government Finance Almanac.
The campaign to pass the bond proposal used specific language and images to advertise the bond measure primarily as one that would remove lead from drinking water in schools and protect students from school shootings.
About $45 million of the bond money is earmarked for removing lead from water. The goal is to get all of the district's drinking water sources to the school board’s desired standard of 1 part per billion, which officials say would make San Diego Unified the first large school system in California to adopt that standard.