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COMMENTARY: Perplexing Plan
Tom Sohn | 26th Street, parent of two Del Mar elementary school students

Standing Room Only for parents at School Board meeting.
Photo Ann Gardner.
Click to enlarge.

Parents stand outside in long lines.
Photo Ann Gardner.
Click to enlarge.

On June 27 the Del Mar Union School District Board approved a previously undisclosed change in the 2018 Facilities Master Plan that allows them to proceed with the $200M bond but leaves the future of the Del Mar Hills and Del Mar Heights elementary schools in question.

The original and controversial Plan called for the building of a new school in the East Pacific Highlands Ranch area, the closing of Del Mar Hills and the building of a new 650 +student school on the site formerly known as Del Mar Heights. The sense of urgency behind this Plan stems from the District’s desire to place a General Obligation Bond of up to $200M on this November’s ballot. In May the Superintendent encouraged the Board to not move forward absent further community input and the agenda for the June 27 meeting was posted on June 23 with the following recommendation: “In order to facilitate further study and analysis as previously referenced, the District needs more time and, therefore recommends no action be taken to approve a Facilities Master Plan at this time.”

During the meeting, however, Dr. McClurg unveiled a new single change to the FMP to both the public and the Board, that a district-wide committee be appointed to determine what should happen to the Hills and the Heights. Both the committee and its recommendations were planned to occur AFTER the revised Plan was passed and AFTER the Board put together its list of priorities for spending the bond money. For parents and voters asked to increase their property taxes without knowing what happens to the Hills and Heights, no answers were given. Will the Hills remain? How big will the new Del Mar West School be? When will the Board authorize the sale of Del Mar Hills? All questions asked by residents who attended the meeting, but none were answered.

It became abundantly clear that, despite DMUSD containing eight existing schools and a Pacific Highlands Ranch school not yet in existence, the Superintendent and the Board clearly view the Hills as the 9th school whose fate is in question. Somewhere during the process, Pacific Highlands Ranch took the place of the Hills within the eight-school model and the Hills was unceremoniously kicked out.

The surprise amendment greatly concerned residents attending the meeting but evidently not the Board. After three hours of public comment the Board voted 4 to 1 in favor of the “revised” Plan. Doug Rafner was the lone dissenting vote citing the same concerns brought up by many of the speakers. On Thursday, one day after the vote, the District posted the change to the now-approved Plan with the following language pertaining to the Hills and Heights schools: “This property will be retained as a district asset and a systematic process to evaluate the use of the Hills and Heights school campuses will be used to analyze and address education programming and fiscal impacts. The District will appoint a Planning Area Committee to receive information and make recommendation based on community input and dialogue.”

One should have little faith that the proposed committee will have any real power to impact the fate of the Del Mar schools. By the time any committee details its findings and requests for the “district assets” the bond measure will be locked in. Del Mar Heights will house 650+ students while the fate of Del Mar Hills as a school or as anything other than a new housing development will be bleak at best.

 

 

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