Members of a community association allege the South San Francisco Unified School District is misusing facilities bond funds for a solar project by directing the energy savings back into the classroom while district officials contend is absolutely nothing wrong with the policy.
At issue is Measure J, a $162 million bond passed in 2010, and a $15.6 million Chevron Energy Solutions Solar Power Project. The district is planning to use savings from the panels, estimated to be about $20 million over 20 years, will be used to supplement the general fund, pay teachers’ and administrators’ salaries and offset operating costs.
That’s wrong, according to members of the Winston Manor Community Association and its members want that money used solely for facilities.
“The schools here are getting really old and it’s prohibited to divert bond funds into general funds,” said Marty Romero, member of the Winston Manor Community Association and the district’s Citizens Bond Oversight Committee. “We all want teachers to get better salaries, but the way they’re going about doing it is misleading to the public.”
The association seeks alternative financing options such as selling the panels to a financial institution. The district would net around $25 million in additional savings, while buying electricity at a reduced rate from the bank and the money could then be spent on construction and reconstruction projects, according to the association.
Romero said his ideas and concerns have fallen on deaf ears while school board members said the community association members are “loose on their facts” and that it’s too late to consider alternative financing.
Trustee Liza Normandy agrees alternative financing is a good idea, but there were conversations happening before the ballot measure and association members did not voice their opinions until after the measure passed and funds were allocated.
The district would not know how to allocate savings from the panels within the general fund to different construction projects, Normandy said. Board President Philip Weise added that the district can’t take money from the general fund and put it into Measure J.
The community association might consider a lawsuit if the district doesn’t move the funds back into Measure J, Winston Manor President Cindy Alger said.
“We’re trying to get them to do something without having to bring it to the grand jury,” Alger said. “We’ve been going back and forth for two years. Directing money from Measure J to the general fund is against education code.”
A lawsuit would do nothing but waste money, Weise said. Trustee Maurice Goodman said he doesn’t have any concerns about the legality of using the cost savings for general fund purposes.
“It’s something they feel very passionate about and we listen to every concern of our citizens,” Goodman said. “They’ve been our supporters, so we take them seriously, but I don’t see the concern for this being illegal.”
The association further argues that the life span of the panels is not worth the cost, Romero said. It will take 40 years for taxpayers to pay off the panels, yet their life expectancy is half the time, he said. He wants to see some sort of alternative financing or put the money in a special fund to be put back into Measure J.
This is simply not true, Weise said. The warranty for the panels is 20 years, while the actual life span for them is more like 35 to 40 years, he said.
The 2010 bond measured was aimed at providing safe, modern classrooms and for educational support facilities by replacing deteriorated portable classrooms with permanent classrooms. It included repairing deteriorated roofs, providing disabled students access, upgrading science labs, libraries, technology and rest rooms. It also focused on enhancing safety, fire detection and security systems. Energy efficiency, replacing outdated electrical, plumbing and heating systems were part of the package as well.
With the solar project, the district expects to cut its annual electrical utility usage in half and reduce its carbon emissions by more than 1,500 metric tons, equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 328 acres of pine forests, according to Chevron Energy Solutions.
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