Proposition A - School Improvement Bonds

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2006 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

Proposition A authorizes the San Francisco Board of Education to issue up to $450 million in general-obligation bonds to meet disability-access requirements and health and safety codes, and to rehabilitate the buildings and grounds of 64 schools in the San Francisco Unified School District. There would be a $29.6 million state match, for a total rehabilitation cost of $479.6 million.

Of the costs in the bond, 75 percent will go toward new construction while 25 percent will be spent on soft costs such as architecture, consultants, and engineering1. Of the new construction, 45 percent of that money will be spent to bring the schools into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Under state law (Proposition 392) Prop. A needs 55 percent voter approval to pass. It will be paid for by an increase in property taxes of $33 per $100,000 in assessed property value. .

Why it is on the ballot

The school board placed Prop. A on the ballot to address the significant deterioration of the district's school facilities and to comply with the federally mandated stipulated settlement in 2004 of the Lopez et al. v. SFUSD, et al. class-action lawsuit, wherein the district agreed to address accessibility deficiencies at 116 district facilities3.

The Lopez decision is, in effect, a compliance lawsuit for the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, with specific agreements and timelines with a federal court on how to make every school in the system ADA compliant. These upgrades are not just for students, but also for teachers, parents and the public using the facilities. Every school will be required to have Braille by the doors; every school would be made accessible to people in wheelchairs or provide for exit in an emergency by disabled people.

Many of these ADA upgrades also require modernization for the facilities to be operable. For example, wider wheelchair-accessible doors trigger new electrical upgrades to buildings, because it is most efficient to also bring the electrical systems to more modern standards while the walls are already being moved.

The Lopez decision identified three groups of schools (approximately 90 total) requiring upgrades. However, only one of those groups of schools (30 total) was included and funded by 2003's identically named Proposition A bond. This is because the 2003 was designed and passed prior to the settlement in 2004. While the district is on target to complete all the upgrades in this initial group of schools, it does not have the funding to finish improvements to the other two groups of schools in time with the strict timeline required in the Lopez settlement. This 2006 bond would provide enough funding to finish the upgrades of another 64 facilities and provide improvements other than the ADA compliance.

If the voters do not pass this bond, the district would be unable to comply with the terms of the stipulated settlement and a federally appointed special master might be appointed to complete the mandated work utilizing whatever funds are available, including the operating funds used to run the schools day to day. In three to four years, the school district will likely need to put forward a separate bond for school modernization, specifically to address those schools not part of the Lopez case.

Prior to 2001, the district had a poor record of performing such repairs. Facilities operations were marked by poor management, lack of financial controls, cost overruns, and fraud. Voter approval of the $295 million 2003 Proposition A School Improvement Bond was a turning point for the district. A bond program manager and project-management staff were hired and an outside, professional bond-program management firm was engaged to play an integral role in the implementation of the bond program.

This school board has a solid record of complying with and completing school projects. As of May 31, the planning and design work for 19 of the 32 schools listed in the 2003 Prop. A bond measure was complete. Among those, 15 projects are under construction or already complete. The Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee set up to monitor the implementation of the measure meets regularly, and the first annual audit of the bond program found that all funds expended to date were spent in accordance with the bond.


Those who support this measure claim:

  • The money from the bond would improve the many San Francisco public schools that are unattractive places and that fail to meet basic health, safety and disability-access codes.
  • Children need a clean, healthy and safe environment for learning, and the funds from this bond measure would help improve conditions in 62 schools and two administrative facilities throughout the city.
  • Providing money for the green-schoolyards program is an important step forward for the city. This program was funded for 17 elementary schools in the 2003 bond. The $5 million in this bond will create additional demonstration projects at 31 elementary schools in every neighborhood and build long-term public support for the concept.
  • The current school administration has demonstrated through management of the 2003 bond that it can manage the design and construction of school facilities on time and within budget. The 2003 bond program's independent auditor found that expenditures complied with the intended use of the bond proceeds.
  • San Francisco's funds will be augmented by state money. Passage of Prop. A would attract an estimated $29.6 million in state matching funds.
  • If we do not pass the bond, we face the possibility of federal takeover of our school system, which could result in significant cuts in all programs exclusively to pay for bringing many schools up to compliance with disability standards.
  • Costs for infrastructure improvements increase significantly every year. In recent years, costs have been escalating at 9 percent a year, driven in part by demand for materials and expertise to rebuild after the damage of Hurricane Katrina, rapid economic growth in China and India, and local hospital-modernization laws. Not only are these cost increases accounted for in Prop. A, but if we do not pass the bond this year, the costs also will continue to go up far more quickly than inflation or overall property-tax revenues.


Opponents of Proposition A claim:

  • The school district, not San Francisco's voters, entered into the Lopez settlement and voters should not be responsible for bailing the school district out because it has failed to comply with the terms of that settlement. If the district could not keep to the terms of the agreement with the plaintiffs, it should not have settled the lawsuit the way it did.
  • If we are spending significant funds to bring our schools into the 21st century, we should instead put that money into science and computer labs. This bond spends half a billion dollars largely to pay for bathrooms, entryways and related construction work.

SPUR's analysis

The 2006 Proposition A addresses deficiencies in four high schools, four middle schools, 31 elementary schools, 13 child-development centers, five county community schools, four charter schools and two administrative facilities. Its funds would repair or replace roofs, heating systems, electrical and plumbing systems, doors and windows, damaged walls, ceilings, floors, restroom fixtures, lockers, drinking fountains, stadium and auditorium seating, and other worn out or damaged facilities. Renovated areas would be painted. In a few schools, a new building might replace temporary bungalows. The work designated for each school is quite specific, but if costs exceed estimates, not all the projects would get done. Because the number of students in the city's public schools is declining, there would be no net increase in the amount of space built as part of this bond.

From the 2006 Prop. A, $15 million would be set aside for the long-promised School of the Arts. While the 2003 Prop. A set aside another $15 million, and $10 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency money has been granted, the current estimate for rehabilitation of the district offices at 135 Van Ness Ave. to house the School of the Arts is in excess of $100 million, leaving a significant amount of funds remaining to be raised from other government and philanthropic sources.

Five million dollars would be used to "green" some of the bleak asphalt and concrete schoolyards and provide environmental education opportunities for children. Elementary schools would have first priority for the "green schoolyards" funding, followed by middle schools and high schools.

It is important to understand that this $450 million bond measure is the second of a multiple-bond program necessary to fund the district's backlog of repair, rehabilitation, renovation and code-compliance work. The board anticipates proposing another bond measure in about four years. The Board of Education's Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee will continue to inform the public of the progress of bond-funded projects. A master facility list is included in the bond measure.

To comply with state law, the measure specifies which schools will be affected and what work will be done at each. Items not in the measure cannot be substituted, and the measure does not guarantee that there will be enough money to perform all the listed work. In addition to annual performance and financial audits, the Board of Education will appoint an independent citizens' oversight committee to inform the public about how the bond monies are being spent. The bonds will be issued for 25 to 30 years and are estimated to cost $33 per year for each $100,000 in assessed value. It is important to note that many San Francisco property owners own homes whose assessed value is much less than its market value because assessed value is based on purchase price (plus additions or remodels).

It is expected that the cost of the bond would be shared between landlords and tenants. Under current law, the drafter of a measure may include language specifying that some or all of a bond can be passed through to tenants. If the language is not inserted into a measure, the default position is that costs may not be passed through for bonds that are sold by the City and County of San Francisco or the school board.

Proposition A's bonds will be sold by the Board of Education of San Francisco, a separate governmental body from the City and County of San Francisco. Because of this distinction, the bond was not initially written to include a pass through to tenants. This required specific language. Recently, legislation was introduced by Supervisor Tom Ammiano that would change the rent-control ordinance to allow landlords to pass through 50 percent of the cost for all City and Board of Education bonds. As of print time, this legislation had not yet passed the full Board of Supervisors, but is unlikely to face any opposition because it was put together specifically as a compromise measure.

Under state Proposition 39, a 55 percent majority of participating voters is needed to pass these bonds. Prior to Prop. 39, a two-thirds majority was required for education bonds.

Although we would rather see $450 million go toward modernizing science and computer labs, or other investments that improve the overall outcome of learning for the majority of the student population, not passing this bond poses far greater potential harm to our school system. If we can successfully move beyond the strict timelines and terms of the Lopez settlement, we will be able to make those other needed investments. Passing this bond is the only reasonable way to achieve that goal.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition A.

1Definition of Soft Costs: "These costs are related to those items in a project that are necessary to prepare and complete the non-construction needs of the project. Soft costs include such items as architecture, design, engineering, permits, inspections, consultants, environmental studies, and regulatory demands needing approval before construction begins. Soft costs do not include construction, telecommunications, furnishings, fixed equipment, and expenditures for any other permanent components of the project." See:
2Note: Prop. 39 reduced the requirement for bond passage from two-thirds to 55 percent for education bonds.
3See: Lopez et al. v. SFUSD, et al., Case No. C 99-3260 SI (EMC)