Site Advisory Committee Report released along with proposed contract with bond experts for another attempt (#6) to pass a bond to build a huge high school in Gird Valley

JAN. 8, 2018 (updated Jan 27, March 7, April 23, 2018): The Agenda for the January 11 BUSD Board Meeting is online and it includes item 9.4, the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee (SAC)  Presentation. Established in November 2017 to review potential high school sites, the SAC met met six times in closed session (observers were not allowed to sit in and there are no public recordings of their meetings). They were told, incorrectly, that the County Office of Education does not offer assistance with such planning. It does. All BUSD had to do was ask.

The report notes that the Committee was presented with eight sites of raw land for use as a high school. Without a five-year plan to guide them, the volunteers started the process with a goal to select a high school site, not to evaluate the needs over the long term.  They did not review any developed properties that could be repurposed. There was no attempt to look at the big picture, such as do we need two middle schools (requiring less acreage) with the high school centrally located (as the County and State advised BUSD during its unification process). SaveGirdValley.com’s Draft Environmental Impact Report comments includes comments on the inadequacy of this process (pages 15, 16).

Keeping to its limited mandate, the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee reviewed and ranked five large sites for building a high school. The other three were reviewed but tossed out and details why were not shared with the public via the ranking system. For example, if the committee thought a site was in a poor location or would be too too costly, a 0 would tell that story. An X would indicate no info. Removal from the entire report communicates nothing. We’ve requested the SAC share the rankings for all eight properties, even ones that got 0s for whatever reason (lack of utilities, topography issues, imagined cost, etc).

After tossing out Sites 1-3 without ranking them, the SAC then ranked the other five sites (Sites 4-8).  Site 8 on Gird Road (located at the north-eastern end of BUSD in a residential area within the County’s Master Plan for the San Luis Rey River Valley, next to one of North County’s golf courses/wedding venues) came in first. Second was Site 5, located on Old River Road, south of the 76, west of Olive Hill. The other sites were all within a few points of Site 5.

The Committee used a weighted ranking system, with points adding up to 100. There are various Rating Factors. For example, Location can receive a total of 15 points. The Ocean Breeze property, located next door to BUSD’s current state-of-the-art High School (completed in 2016), would offer a cost savings from combined services. It received 11 out of 15 points for Location. The Gird Road site, located in Fallbrook (which already has a high school) and would require whole new costs for separate services, received 13 points for Location. The December 2017’s Lilac Fire resulted in evacuation of the Sullivan Middle School Campus in Bonsall, located next to the Ocean Breeze property which lost 2 points as a result for Safety (18 out of 20). But the Gird Road site was not docked any points (scoring 20 out of 20 for Safety) even though the Lilac fire burned just a few hundred yards to the south of the site and Gird Valley was evacuated (for the second time in a decade). Hmmm. It does all make one scratch one’s head.

Public Acceptance for a site triggered only 3 out of a total of 100 points. Considering that the public votes on financing such endeavors at the ballot box and is THE key component to any community school project, it’s odd that Public Acceptance only receives 3 points. Site 4 on Mission Road received only 1 of 3 points in the Public Acceptance section and all the other sites received 2 points. Keep in mind that the Gird Road site in Fallbrook has lost five times at the ballot box so we think it should have clearly earned 0 points here, not that that would make much of a difference in this weighted ranking system. But imagine if Public Acceptance had been weighted with 15 or 20 points, not three, how different this report would be!

The report places the Gird Road property in the lead as a building site (not a big surprise for the politically jaded among us) but the other four sites are neck and neck in the running. The runner up is Site Number 5, located off Old River Road is the “second preferred site”.

Beyond property analysis, the Committee was supposed to represent the Community. Not included in the report is any detail as to how those serving on the Committee met the criteria set by the Board. So let’s go over the guidelines BUSD established for serving on the SAC:

“Committee shall be comprised of one representative and one alternate from each of the following geographic areas who are residents” in the BUSD: Pala, Bonsall West, Bonsall Elementary, Sullivan Middle School , Gird Road and Rancho areas. The map included is handy since most of these school-focused descriptions do not tie in to geographic area names. It’s school speak.

“Of these residents (if possible depending on applications submitted): At least two retirees who do not have children living at home; At least one with a child enrolled in BUSD secondary schools (middle or high school) living at home; At least one with a child enrolled in BUSD elementary schools or younger children living at home.”

We have asked, several times, for info on those selected and how they met the parameters set out. No response.

BUSD President Timothy Coen said in December, “This Advisory Board is the community, the whole community…we have to depend on them to represent the community, that’s their job.” 

Since BUSD did not supply any detail on how those selected to serve on the Committee represent the “whole community”, we did  our own research. We were bit surprised at how many committee volunteers actually make their living from BUSD and are dependent on the good graces of the Superintendent.  Superintendent David Jones said, “The board is interested in giving the public a voice,” and promised, “We welcome the community involvement and input. The advisory committee and the people on the committee will be people from the public within our community.

We assumed this meant the committee would be members of the general public, the community at large. NOT a BUSD inner circle or a BUSD-dependent community.

Next time BUSD establishes a committee to represent the public, we will have to stipulate that these volunteers have no financial ties to the school district and actually represent the public and the community at large. 

Feel free to let us know what we’ve missed but here’s what we have so far:

Area 1, Pala – Eric Ortega (Pala Tribe which was a major donor to failed Measure DD, the fifth failed attempt to build a high school on Gird Road. While entitled “Bonsall Taxpayers for Schools, YES on DD campaign”, zero campaign contributions came from district residents. DD was fully funded by only three entities: Erickson-Hall Construction Co., Pala Band of Mission Indians Political Contribution Account and LHR Investment Company LLC , aka Accretive Investments/Lilac Hills Ranch.), No Alternate; Area 2, Rancho – Tom Flanagan (another public supporter of failed Measure DD who also supports widening Gird Road), Alternate: David Toney;  Area 3, Gird – Eric Nordeen (wife Michelle is a BUSD teacher), Alternate: Kara LaRussa (vocal supporter of failed Measure DD, 2016, the fifth unsuccessful ballot attempt to build on Gird Road and BUSD substitute teacher); Area 4, Sullivan – Kassandra Costa (BUSD teacher), Alternate: Larissa Anderson (highly vocal and visible Yes on DD 2016 spokes-mom Larissa Scors Anderson was actually “Yes on DD”‘s paid Campaign Manager,); Area 5, Bonsall – Jeff Johnson, Alternate: None; Area 6, Bonsall West – Brian Olson (Brian spoke out after serving on the Committee in support of the Gird Road site noting that he’d voted against Measure DD. He and his wife Elizabeth Covarrubius Olson protested against Measure DD in 2016, noting that the pro DD forces were out of line during the protest. Brian’s mother-in-law, Teresa Covarrubius, is a BUSD employee and works for the union as Treasurer of California School Employees Association’s Bonsall Chapter 703 along with her long-time friend Teresa Suarez who serves as the union Chapter’s President and the office manager at the Vivian Banks Charter School located on the Pala Reservation. Brian and Elizabeth Covarrubius Olson own Clear Intentions Window washing located at 4217 Kari Lane, Bonsall 92003, a residence owned by the Luis H & Theresa A Covarrubias Living Trust 02-24-01.), Alternate: Eric Ford.

Just to make sure enough BUSD-dependents were included on the SAC Committee, BUSD  added two BUSD staff members: BUSD High School Principal Lee Fleming (Yes, BUSD has a high school, just built in 2016. Fleming earned $152k in salary/benefits/pension in 2016) and Assistant Superintendent William Pickering ($179k salary/benefits/pension in 2016), along with Bonsall Teacher Association President Julie Urquhart, a BUSD teacher. (Julie’s husband also teaches at BUSD, making this a $200,000/year BUSD-dependent family).

While the Bonsall Community Sponsor Group (Margarette Morgan) was included, the Fallbrook Community Planning Group (where 100% of Gird Road is located) was excluded. The County Office of Education (SDCOE), which offers support for Districts with site selection, was not invited to help and the Committee was told, incorrectly, the SDCOE didn’t offer this service anymore.

Lest we forgot, another group of community residents (none financially dependent on BUSD) gave time and energy working with BUSD staff reviewing sites in 2016. Superintendent Cunningham treated them shamefully when they delivered their report to the Board. They determined that expansion as necessary onto the Ocean Breeze property, located next door to the existing Bonsall High School, located in Bonsall, made the most sense. Here is that report. Interestingly, the owners of the Ocean Breeze property have offered some of their 1,400 acres to BUSD for no money down, payable via developers’ fees over time. BUSD projects that 30% to 34% of its high school and middle school children will come from the Ocean Breeze development when it it eventually built. How nice if they come walk to school!

Since the SAC report included metrics on enrollment, let’s quickly address that: BUSD currently has  328 high school students in its new high school (completed 2016) located on the Sullivan Campus in Bonsall, next door to the Ocean Breeze property. The SAC report projects another 375 for a total of 703 high school students for 2021-22. It projects 480 high school students in 2019-20. This raises eyebrows since BUSD just recently projected only 352 high school students for the years 2019-20. This is not the first time we’ve seen conflicting numbers or read reports with overly robust projections for high schools in Fallbrook or Bonsall (see the History section of this website). There is no mention in the SAC report that BUSD enrollment for grades K-3 and 4-6 has declined or that BUSD is currently operating at less than 80% of capacity. No mention that Fallbrook Union High School District’s enrollment has plummeted by more than 20% over the last decade or that San Marcos and Valley View have announced they’re laying off teachers (overbuilt, overstaffed, under-enrolled). There are  32 high schools in the area built and maintained by taxpayer dollars; plus another 15 privately funded high schools. 

Moving on, the Agenda for Jan 11 includes Item 9.1, a $100,000+ contract for bond advisors to provide a survey and campaign services so it looks like BUSD will try to barrel on forward and attempt to pass a bond in 2018.  This will be attempt #6 to pass a bond to build a high school on Gird Road. (Update Jan 11: Due to the efforts of financially conservative board members Tucker and Olson, the board approved $3,500 for a limited contract for  Step One: a 400-person survey to determine if there is any support for passing a bond in 2018 and if the location on Gird is why this issue has lost five times in the past. Board members requested input into the questions. Here are the questions we’d like to see asked.)