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Revenue shortfall forces school board shift in bond projects

The San Diego Unified School District board on Tuesday directed staff to delay school modernization projects in favor of technological improvements called for by voter-approved Proposition S.

Revenue from the $2.1 billion bond measure approved in last November’s general election is expected to come in lower than expected for the next several years, said Stuart Markey, executive director of the school district’s capital improvement program.

Markey warned trustees in July that economic conditions would result in a shortfall. He also said the state has delayed paying tens of millions of dollars of matching funds.

“That $62 million is not gravy,” board member Richard Barrera observed. “That $62 million is necessary for the projects approved by the voters.’'

The impact on La Jolla’s schools was not immediately clear.

Board members during a workshop reached a consensus that upgrading classroom technology and creating a state-of-the-art district data center were higher priorities than brick-and-mortar projects.

The data center, scheduled to open in 2013, will house the district’s financial and personnel information along with student projects, and will be operated in part by high school technology students.

Markey provided board members with a list of 46 projects at 33 schools that will delayed anywhere from one to nine years.

The bond measure will raise money for projects through 2023, with about half of the funds coming in by 2018, meaning the last five years are heavily backloaded.

A number of economic conditions can affect how much money is raised by the sale of bonds. The biggest impact on Proposition S bonds has been a stagnation in the valuation of real estate within the boundaries of the school district, said Mark Young, who is advising the SDUSD on the bond issue.

The district is limited to raising no more than $66.70 for every $100,000 in assessed value, so if the worth of a community’s property stagnates, so does revenue from the bond sales.

The district conservatively estimated a 5 percent annual growth in local property values, but the level for the current fiscal year is expected to actually drop by 1.3 percent, and be flat next year, Young said.

“There’s very little wiggle room right now” Markey said.

The board did maneuver a small amount by approving two projects not specifically listed under Proposition S -- adjustments requested by the fire marshal at certain elementary schools and the completion of an air conditioning system at Normal Heights Elementary left unfinished by 1998’s Proposition MM.