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SDCTA Gives Most School Districts Passing Grades On Construction Bond Transparency

School district construction bond programs around San Diego County are becoming more transparent for public scrutiny, according to a report released Monday by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

A construction worker wearing fall protection guides a piece of wood into place, Oct. 11, 2004.

SDCTA recommendations

Prominently display on the home page of the district website information regarding a school facilities bond and the corresponding Independent Citizens Oversight Committee;

Make all oversight committee meeting materials available on its web page;

Use auditors with demonstrated knowledge in project management and construction industry best practices when conducting performance audits; and

Use the best established oversight committees as models when starting their own committees.

Nineteen districts were rated by the SDCTA's educational foundation on how various types of information were made available on the Internet, or through reports and audits. The criteria included meeting agendas and minutes, annual reports, financial audits, performance audits and project progress.

"We found that, on average, districts met 90 percent of the criteria we were looking for, up from 80 percent the last time we conducted this study in 2011," SDCTA President and CEO W. Mark Leslie said. "While there clearly is some good news in this study for taxpayers, some school districts are not meeting basic criteria such as posting audits to their websites."

The authors of the report said taxpayers should be able to find out if new libraries, pools and classrooms promised by district officials to voters have actually been built.

Public concern over school construction bonds increased two years ago when it was discovered that the Poway Unified School District issued a capital appreciation bond that leaves taxpayers in that area on the hook for paying back $981 million over 40 years, in exchange for borrowing $105 million to construct school facilities.

State legislation was subsequently passed to restrict the terms of such bonds.

The highest ratings for bond transparency went to the San Diego Unified School District and Sweetwater Union High School District, which met all 23 criteria set out by the taxpayer's group. The Grossmont-Cuymaca Community College District met 22 of 23 while the Grossmont Union High School District, Oceanside Unified School District and San Diego Community College District had 21.

The lowest ratings went to the Julian Union School District, which met just seven criteria, according to the study.

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