Taxpayer group hands out 'Golden Fleece' awards to those who waste taxpayer money

Finalists: City of El Cajon, 2 school districts

SAN DIEGO - San Diego Unified School District, Poway Unified School District and the City of El Cajon all have something in common. They are just three of several finalists for a "Golden Fleece Award."

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association says it crunches the numbers every year. The group says the finalists for bad management this year represent hundreds of millions of dollars in wasteful spending.

At the SDCTA there are binders filled with research the group says reveals how San Diego taxpayers are being fleeced.

"When they're not doing such a good job we think it's important to call them out," said SDCTA president and CEO Felipe Monroig.

One example according to the association was SDUSD's purchase of iPads using bond money from voter-approved Proposition S.

In one phase, the district bought nearly 11,000 iPads.

"The problem is not that they bought iPads.  They may be a useful teaching tool.  The bigger issue is how they're financing and paying for these iPads," said Monroig.

Each of the iPads cost about $536 including warranties and accessories. But once the 40-year bond is paid off, each iPad will end up costing $4,077.

"If you're going to use a bond that's fine, but you need to tie the bond to the useful lifespan of that particular piece of technology," said Monroig.

Another example was Poway Unified's controversial $100 million bond that will cost $1 billion to pay off in 40 years.

Does the group believe Poway's mistake was in how they structured that bond?

"I think they did a lot of things wrong and that would be the first thing," said Monroig. "The children of tomorrow and the adults of tomorrow are paying for services today.  You're kicking the can down the road as it were."

Then there's the city of El Cajon's $600,000 investment in the El Cajon Brewing Company, which declared bankruptcy in less than a year.  According to the group, the expected loss to the city is all $600,000.

"Should a city be investing in a brewery?  I love beer, don't get me wrong, but is that really kind of the core mission," said Monroig.

There are examples of good management the group is also highlighting, including the $4 million freed up by San Diego County by moving the call box program over to the San Diego Association of Governments.

But fleecing, SDCTA says, outweighs fixing.  And the fleecers will receive a small sheep trophy as a reminder.

"Most of the time it's just forgetting who they work for," Monroig said.

The Taxpayer's Association credits SDUSD for being responsive. They said for future iPad purchases, the district has indicated it will structure the bonds better by tying bonds to the lifespan of the devices.

Golden Fleece winners will be announced at an annual dinner held Thursday night.

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