How does Ramona Unified spend its maintenance money?

By BOB GRAEFF, Ramona Unified School District Superintendent

(Following is the first of a short series of articles about fiscal issues related to Ramona Unified School District.)

Questions continue to emerge about how the school district uses the annual funding it receives for routine school maintenance. Many employees and community members often ask why our local facilities — some of which are more than 70 years old — are not maintained in better condition and appear to be declining in appearance.

So here are the numbers. Since the 2005-06 school year, the district has received between $222,000 and $272,000 per year for the maintenance of our schools and offices. This resource has never been even close to the amount needed to adequately maintain our facilities and is not intended by the state to support districts in the upgrade, renovation, and modernization of schools.

Our local maintenance expenses for last year were typical. The district spent $630,000 for salaries and benefits of our maintenance employees. We spent more than $200,000 on supplies to repair our facilities, $25,000 on new maintenance equipment, and more than $130,000 on general maintenance expenses. All together, we spent more than $985,000 on the maintenance of our schools — far more than the funding we receive.

Examples of general maintenance expenses include pool maintenance at Ramona High, plumbing, light bulbs and lighting repairs, air conditioning and heating repairs, electrical supplies, repair and maintenance of fire alarms, maintenance and repairs of our cooling towers, and the servicing of hundreds of routine work orders submitted by the various school sites.

Larger maintenance projects targeted last year were the purchase and installation of multiple HVAC units, wood fiber for a school playground at Mt. Woodson, repair of a sewer pit at Ramona High, construction and repair of a well tank and related pumps at Barnett, purchase of new water heaters at James Dukes, repair of a large transformer at Ramona Elementary, and the refinishing of gym floors at Ramona High and Olive Peirce.

A conversation with any teacher or principal at any of our schools will reveal instantly that our maintenance staff is overwhelmed by the volume of day-to-day issues related to sticking doors and locks, vandalized walls and broken windows, leaking roofs during the rainy season, patches for asphalt, restroom repairs, installation of ceiling-mounted projectors, playground equipment, cafeteria kitchen repairs, fence repairs, and more.

Some observers may recall that our school board has routinely “flexed” or absorbed the entire maintenance budget into the General Fund for the past five years — along with dozens of other restricted funding accounts. Prior to 2008-09 and “flexibility,” the district was also required to commit 3 percent of its General Fund towards maintenance. For Ramona, this requirement was roughly equal to an additional $1.5 million. By flexing the state’s meager contribution of $250,000, the district was exempted from making the larger 3 percent match. While it is true, then, that all of the state’s maintenance funds still go toward district maintenance support, the district no longer allocates an additional $1.5 million.

Even though we spent $700,000 more than we received for routine school maintenance issues last year, we were not able to purchase a single new roof, resurface a playground, replace aging carpeting, paint a school, add energy-efficient windows, replace aging relocatable classrooms, upgrade science classrooms, or modernize facilities.

Do our facilities need additional maintenance and repair? Absolutely. Could we improve the general appearance of our schools and improve the exterior of the district office? Of course. But the funding we receive from Sacramento for maintenance is already spent three times over and we hesitate to reduce more staffing and cut employee salaries further to pay for the additional upkeep of our buildings. Clearly, additional funding sources are needed to maintain our local schools.

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Posted by Maureen Robertson on Oct 29 2013. Filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

30 Comments for “How does Ramona Unified spend its maintenance money?”

  1. Ramona Resident

    Or, you could reduce the number of schools to match the reductionin ADA and quit throwing good money after bad at RE. But, I suspect is easier to ask the community to pony up more taxes to cover the costs rather than make obvious cuts. I have been here a long time and these are the same issues I heard about over ten years ago.

    • Guest

      That sounds like a good idea until you realize that all those children will need to be bussed to another school and the majority of them would qualify for free bus passes while adding bus routes and drivers to the district expense, so the savings wouldn't be quite as much as one might assume. Then you have the problem of what to do with those closed down buildings, which are vandalism magnets. To demolish them would be very expensive.

  2. Guest

    The large maintenance project "wood fiber for a school playground at Mt. Woodson" seems a little exaggerated.

  3. Guest

    How does RUSD spend its maintenance money? Inefficiently!!!!!

  4. Not Fooled

    Ramona – Don't be fooled by Dr. Graeff's PR campaign. This is nothing more than an attempt to soften up the public for support prior to a bond measure. The district seems to think that they can simply tax their way out of this when the issues they're facing now are the result of their arrogance and incompetence.

    Background – instead of building RCS and Hanson, the district had an opportunity to rebuild or replace RE. They chose instead to build Hanson in a dairy field and backfill the old Hanson Lane site with RCS. It was obvious to all that the need was clearly more acute on the east end of town. They chose to ignore the obvious. Now the district is left with a crumbling RE site and is unwilling to consider using other existing sites more sensibly. The district has options other than taxing us. Remember – 21% drop in ADA means 6 elementaries are no longer needed. They just prefer to tax us and keep their surplus of schools rather than consolidate.

    • P.M. Ketchem

      Not fooled – I cannot disagree with the second sentence of your first paragraph. As the article was published on Holloween eve perhaps a better title would have been Prop. R -The Sequel.

      It does seem to be the same old game plan, but maybe not. I am still awaiting the public release of the report, which I believe was requested by October, concerning the assessment of potentially excess property of the district, and any recommendations
      about the disposition and use of resulting funds.

      I for one would be more comfortable, given the recent labor and other issues, if it were the president of our elected school board speaking out, but I am sure their are significant reasons why that is not practical.

  5. Jane Tanaka MD

    Even if Ramona Elementary, OR Montecito HS OR MVA OR one of the elementary schools in the SDCE were closed to cut costs, $200,000 plus a year from the State would not be enough to address the leaky roofs, rotting beams, moldy carpet, peeling paint, termite ridden walls of the rest of RUSD buildings and the disintergrating swimming pool at RHS. . Even the newest of our schools reportedly had leaky roofs the very first year!

    • Not Fooled

      Perhaps, but the $200K would go a lot further if it was only used on the remaining schools rather than patching up sites that aren't needed to serve the ADA.

      As for the newest schools having leaky roofs in the first year, what ever happened to a warranty? I have been involved in large construction projects and there is always a provision in the contract to cover construction defects – and nobody can claim that a leak in the first year of a roof that should last a minimum of 30 is not a defect. Is the district so incompetent that there was no such protection of our tax dollars or do they just not care?

      No matter how you slice it, there is no getting around that the district has not been a good steward of our tax dollars.

      • Jane Tanaka MD

        Because you are Not Fooled, and have been involved in large construction projects our group needs your help and advice to turn the school district around. In addition to the construction defects warranty, do you have another suggestions or pearls of wisdom/experience to share? Would you participate in a FORUS meeting? How many years is a construction defect warranty good for, Not Fooled? Also, if a roofing company has made patches and repairs to a roof, is that repair under warranty also, and for how long?

        • Not Fooled

          The length of a warranty varies depending on a number of factors. The point of my comment wasn't that the length this warranty should have been longer. My point was every warranty I've ever seen lasts at least a few years and for the district to have paid out on a leaky room that is a year or two old goes to show that they are not treating our dollars as their own. If it was just this one instance, that's one thing. But, there seems to be a recurring theme…

          • Jane Tanaka MD

            So, Not Fooled, are you willing to help us further with your knowledge and perspective… and your contruction expertise? Are you willing volunteer 8 hours a month , not for fundraising, but in donating your time, energy, brainpower and muscle power for a hands on deferred maintenance project? FORUS is not the district.
            Our group has nothing to do with a bond; we are not and will not campaign for or against a bond. We have communication with the district via their board president regularly, and when needed with the head maintenance person , and with Mr Ostermann to coordinate the roof inspections.

          • Not Fooled

            While I appreciate what FORUS is attempting to do, the fact of the matter remains that, best intentions aside, FORUS is fighting a battle that cannot be won. I have personally worked with the district before and found the experience frustrating and a complete waste of my time. They do not want solutions. They believe they have the solutions. The community is there to simply rubber-stamp their ideas so that they can say they had "community input". That's just the way they operate. I don't know why it is that way. Perhaps it is because they are not business people, educational doctoral degrees aside. So, while I appreciate and respect what you are attempting to do, I think the only solution is change at the district. When I see that, then I'll feel like picking up a paint brush or helping reroof a building will make a difference.

  6. Jane Tanaka MD

    In 2009, the State of California put a temporary stop to Hardship Projects, which allowed for additional funds to be allocated to school districts in dire need of additional deferred maintenance program funding. This funding was to become available again in July 2013. However due to further changes in the laws, I believe that this has been done away with all together. The State knows that many school districts , not just ours, are in bad shape in terms of building maintenance and are turning a blind eye. There are no State standards for school buildings , other for bathroom conditions, what is considered acceptable.

  7. Jane Tanaka MD

    Half the people did not support the Bond last year. So its up the the other half of the population to find another solution. Part of this solution is voluntary contribution to projects which most greatly impact the health and safety of our students. I'm told that the Ramona VFW is working on building a shaded area for students to eat lunch at one of our schools. Parents at Ramona Community raised money for dead bolt locks for each classroom. Another parent at Mt Woodson built a new wall for the playground during the teachers furlough last spring. Friends of Ramona Unified Schools raised $8600 for vandal proof soap dispensers and 2 years worth of soap for the secondary schools, as well as $1000 for new faucets and $500 for AED batteries. In addition to several hundred dollars raised for the Roof Project since September, FORUS has also raised more than $1000 in the last 17 days for the Roof Project. There are some hard working folks in our community who would rather donate time/labor than cash, to assist with deferred maintenance projects.The Ramona Parents Coalition has also been meeting with the district regarding deferred maintenance. We each have some way of contributing potentially.

  8. Guest

    It is great that FORUS is stepping up to help. The problem remains that the Board has not held the RUSD administration accountable for the bad decisions they have made in the past. Many of the same people who made those decisions are still there, and yet, the only solution they seem to come up with is to tax us to fix their mistakes. That would not be the case in private industry! I was one of the 50% who voted against the bond. I will never vote in support of another bond until I see a change at RUSD, and we will never see a change until those in charge are replaced. Almost everybody I know feels the same way, and I know a lot of people. Frankly, the Board has not represented the taxpayer in this regard at all. A corporate board would have made a change years ago; this board simply renews contracts with no consideration of poor performance. Afterall, its not their money.

    • Jane Tanaka MD

      Would you and your friends be willing to help by donating 8 hours of your time a month instead of voting for a bond or contributing cash donations? It would not be for fundraising. It would be for helping out with repairs or painting. We could even ask administrative staff to work along aside us, so you’d have their ear and they would have to listen ! (This would be more effective than protesting via the Ramona Sentinel.) Also, other outspoken folks who are critical of the District Governance Committee, were very articulate at the last District Workshop, hopefully they will hold another one soon.

    • Jane Tanaka MD

      Guest, if you've attended either their meetings, or the public workshop, you would know they have acknowledged their mistakes and are very much willing to consider other options in cost cutting. But I acknowledge that it will take a long time or drastic changes required in Board/Administrations actions to earn your trust and the trust of your friends and neighbors.
      Are you willing to run for the School Board? Or who would you want to see be on the Board? Would it make a difference to you if Mr Newman, who was Principal of RHS for years, were promoted to Superintendent in a year or two?

      • Guest

        I have attended their meetings. In fact, the first meeting I attended was well over a dozen years ago. I know they say they are willing to consider drastic cost cutting options, but based on past history I do not believe it. I have heard it all before.

        Regarding running for the School Board, my comments are not intended to set me, or anybody else, up for a run for the Board. I am not in a position to give that position the attention it needs and deserves, so I would not be a good candidate. I would, however, support a candidate with a strong private sector business background. That is what I think is needed to change the mindset at RUSD.

        As for Mr. Newman, he is a case-in-point that my issues with the district are not merely to complain. There are people in the district I would support and he is one I would support 100%. I have seen his work at the high school first-hand. He is a good man who is very astute and holds his people accountable.

        • Jane Tanaka MD

          Your heart is in the right place , Guest. Would you join us in a painting party or some other one day project? You dont have to donate money, just your time and energy and muscle. Everyone is busy, I know. I have a 70 hour a week practice. But things like can bring the community together rather than fighting over the internet.

  9. Jane Tanaka MD

    Addendum to my previous comment.. I do not wish to imply that all people who voted against the Bond are not willing to help the kids of our school district, by the way. Two of our most ardent opponents of the Bond last year are are most enthusiastic members of FORUS. And FORUS was inspired by folks in the community who voted against the Bond but wanted to help with specific deferred maintenance projects at RUSD. And by the community becoming more involved, the Board and our Superintendent are being more mindful that we are all watching and concerned.

  10. Darnell

    Just wait….the teachers union and the democrats will find a way to overturn prop 13 and then all of the problems will be solved. Those entities and others are slowly eating away at what remains of prop 13. They can’t attack it head on, but they are gnawing at it from all other sides.

    Does Ramona need its own school district? Is it fiscally right? Certainly, parents and the community will think it “nice” to have local control over their children, but the reality is that there is no real parental or community control.

    Case in point; many parents of the wrestling team expressed anger over the hiring of an outside coach over Duayne Guile. Duayne has coached in Ramona for eight years, sent many wrestlers to the state qualifications in that time, received accolades from a State of California representative, coach of the year as voted on by his peers and called the “number one assistant by Damon Baldwin.

    Duayne was a pillar int his community, a dedicated coach and aspiring teacher. Thanks to the local administration, he is now coaching and substitute teaching for La Costa Canyon.

    Local control and parental involvement means nothing to some of the these people. So why does Ramona need a school district?

    • Jane Tanaka MD

      Darnell, Are you saying that you prefer that RUSD become insolvent and let a State School Czar take over?

    • Jane Tanaka MD

      Also, dont understand your comment about democrats and teachers union wanting to overturn Prop 13… atleast here in Ramona. Overtuning Prop 13 would hurt RUSD, since our housing prices are much less than those of San Deguito, Delmar, LaJolla, Scripps Ranch. A crucial part of Prop 13 ( not just capping the % of property tax at 1%of house value), is that the funds from Property Tax are distributed equitably among rich and poor districts.

  11. Darnell

    That is exactly what i am saying. What would be wrong with letting the district fold or merging with another district? I am asking because I really am not sure what the harm would be; in fact, it might save the schools. I admit, I could be wrong, but too mamy parents and teachers don't seem very happy with the current status of the district.

    Raising property taxes to "redistribute" the "revenue" that is generated from raising taxes is exactly the goal. If you don't recognize that, then nothing Imsaynis going to change your mind.

    I fully believe that if the district could raise our property taxes and any others it could get its hands on, they would. Oddly, i also believe we would be in the same spot with poorly maintained buildings, teachers claiming they don't make enough, the superintendent making more money than appropriate for the job and on and on….

    • Jane Tanaka MD

      If you wish you can look up archived comments made by me and others about insolvency from a year ago.

      • Darnell


        If you are referring to this little gem, you should be embarrassed:

        That answered absolutely nothing and still leaves me wondering what "bad" things would happen if the school district merged with Poway, Escondido or just went away and the state took over.

        Graeff may lose his job, but then again, he could be retained as an "adviser". Perhaps some of the other management positions would be consolidated and the schools be repaired.

        I doubt that RUSD will collapse or merge with another district. I don't believe that a bond measure is the right thing either. The district will only spend beyond the bond and nothing, absolutely nothing will change and that is what many "tax payers" are tired of.

        I don't know who was responsible for building new schools when faced with declining enrollment or if those decisions were made when enrollment was on the increase and the money spent after the declining enrollment even though it was allocated in previous years.

        I am sure that there is money to do necessary repairs but that might mean cutting somewhere else.

        • Guest

          Darnell, why would be merge with Poway when 20 years up the road their bad financial decision will hold their taxpayers accountable to the tune of $1 billion for $100 million in loan money. We have made mistakes but nothing that foolish!

          • Darnell

            I mentioned Poway solely on proximaty. You bring up a good point about their future fiscal issues.

            I really am interested in knowing what would happen if the RUSD folded. Would the state move in with money and repair the issues, make it worse or better? Would merging with another district be a smart choice? I don't know. I have never seen a legitimate analysis of the idea.

  12. Jane Tanaka MD

    Anyone (parents, grandparents, other community members, faculty, administrators) who would like to donate their TIME, instead of money as a donation, for a Saturday or Sunday deferred maintenance project and work along side FORUS , please let us know. My email address is I will forward your msg to our volunteer coordinator, Amy Barraclough. Weeks ago Joe M came forward with a pledge of 8 hours a month. Thank you.

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