COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | TOM LEMMON

Prop. Z and San Diego

San Diegans face a handful of votes this November related to education, from statewide propositions like Proposition 30 on down. But one ballot measure that warrants careful consideration from the voting public sits at the bottom of the ballot, yet rises to the top as it pertains to the welfare of our local children: Proposition Z.

What is Proposition Z? Essentially, it allows the San Diego Unified School District to issue up to $2.8 billion in bonds to continue the repairs needed to protect our children from outdated and deteriorating facilities begun under Proposition S in 2008, and it will protect the jobs of the district’s teachers, as well as math and science instruction, college prep level classes, and San Diego’s nationally recognized Classroom Technology Program, which prepares students for the modern high-tech world they’ll face upon graduation.

The average age of a San Diego Unified school is 43 years, but many have been in operation for 60 years or more and are in need of infrastructure upgrades to replace aging components and remove hazards, such as asbestos and mold, and to improve fire safety and emergency communications systems. Basic needs, such as plumbing, electrical wiring, and repairs to cracked sidewalks and broken stairways would also be addressed.

The progress we’ve made under Proposition S funds has made a huge difference in the quality of life and education of our city’s children, but we need to finish the job. More than $7 billion in needed repairs were identified prior to the passage of Proposition S, which provided $2.1 billion toward that goal, but school improvements remain a work in progress, and Proposition Z funds would come right as state funding for needed repairs is set to expire. Without a continued dedicated funding source, future repair monies would have to come from the district’s general operating budget, already stretched thin and facing a considerable shortfall in the coming years.

Proposition Z funds are also earmarked to continue San Diego Unified’s award-winning Classroom Technology Program, under which student test scores have risen every year since its implementation. Without Proposition Z, the district will run out of funding for the program.

If passed, Proposition Z would keep dollars spent on critical school infrastructure close to home and in the hands of those who have a proven accountability track record. Under Proposition S, 96 percent of workers on school improvement projects came from the San Diego region, keeping our jobs, tax dollars and consumer spending right here in the community, where it supports all local businesses. Projects hired out using funds from the previous measure were completed an average of 51 days early, and on or under budget, resulting in three Taxpayers Association “Golden Watchdog” awards for effective financial management. Safeguards in the new Proposition Z, if passed, ensure that the local money stays at home, and can’t be redirected by the state.

Money for Proposition Z has ironclad protections built in if it’s passed, ensuring that no long-term, high-interest bonds — similar to those that recently caused nationwide controversy in Poway — will be employed. An Independent Oversight Committee monitors all spending and guarantees taxpayer representation throughout the life of the measure. Proposition Z further requires an annual, independent audit account for every penny of spending.

Detractors have said Proposition Z would nearly double property taxes, but NBC 7 San Diego recently found that the maximum impact it would have would be about $60 per $100,000 of property value, equivalent to an increase of less than 5 percent on the average property tax bill.

With the future of our city’s children hanging in the balance, it’s imperative that San Diego continues to make strides toward improving our education system. Recent history proves that taxpayer money has been well invested in our youth, as proved by the consistently improving performance of San Diego Unified. Commitment to our children and confidence in our future begins with a yes vote on Proposition Z.


Lemmon is the business manager of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council AFL-CIO overseeing 23 trade union affiliates. For more information about the Building Trades Council, visit sdbuildingtrades.com.

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