On projections, brick and mortar and fuzzy math

Bonsall Unified School District (BUSD), with a 2018 graduating class of just 57, is wrong to ask voters to build it a new campus via its $38M Bond Measure EE.

BUSD cannot afford to operate its existing campuses. After running deficits for over seven years, California issued BUSD a “qualified certification” stating BUSD “may not meet its financial obligations for fiscal year 2017–18 or 2018–19”.  

BUSD-budget-balance

District-wide, BUSD has 124 classrooms (including a new state-of-the-art high school with two expensively-outfitted laboratories), scattered from Oceanside to Pala. 2,500 are enrolled with 2,300 students on campus daily. At 25-27 students/classroom, BUSD’s 124 classrooms can accommodate 3,100-3,348 students.

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BUSD’s Facilities Needs Analysis, 2017

There is no capacity crisis at BUSD, just an inefficient use of space and taxpayer dollars.

While BUSD attempts to ignore reality, voters should not. Among others, the Republican Party of San Diego County and the Fallbrook Democratic Club both recommend voting NO on Measure EE.

In an attempt to justify its folly, BUSD is using overly aggressive enrollment projections but we’ve seen wild projections before. In 2005 The San Diego Union Tribune reported on a study predicting a doubling of enrollment at Fallbrook Union High School District (FUHSD) from 3,000 to 6,000 by 2025 (“Fallbrook High School has ambitious plans to accommodate growing enrollment”). At the time, FUHSD was pushing taxpayers to support a second campus to open in 2008. This high school was to be built on the exact same parcel BUSD wants to build on via Measure EE, a site in Fallbrook’s Gird Valley. FUHSD lost similar ballot measures four times and the predictions were completely wrong. FUHSD’s enrollment fell to 2,071 by 2015 and hovers around 2,000 today, a 30% decline. FUHSD declared the Great Gird Money Pit surplus property and passed it to BUSD as part of the unification agreement between the two school districts. BUSD attempted, and failed, to pass a $58 million bond, Measure DD, in 2016. Funded by campaign contributions from contractors, school designers and bond brokers, the campaigners are back again. Believing you’ll see the reduced amount as more reasonable, Attempt #6’s Measure EE, asks you for $38 million, foot in the door money. 

In 2014, BUSD predicted its enrollment would double from 2,500 students to 5,000 by 2020, with the proposed Lilac Hills Ranch mega-development contributing fully half of the projected increase. Lilac Hills Ranch’s 1,700 housing units have been proposed for open space zoned for 110 homes located within the Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District but BUSD offered to move its boundaries and take all these students! After losing at the ballot box (2016’s Measure B), Lilac Hills Ranch stalled but other developments were built. However, even after expanding its programs from K-8 to K-12 and opening the doors to a brand new state-of-the-art high school in 2016, BUSD’s enrollment didn’t budge. It remains at about 2,500 students today.

BUSD now predicts 709 new units will generate 530 students District-wide (21% increase) of which 110 will choose BUSD’s high school (31% increase) in just one to five years. These are truly aggressive numbers. For comparison, Poway, North County San Diego’s fastest growing District, experienced only a 10% increase over a decade. 

Taxpayers have built (and maintain) 32 public high schools in the area ringing BUSD. Another 15 private high schools, along with home schooling and new digital learning options, compete to serve the varied needs of the District’s children. Within 15 miles of Bonsall (zip 92003), GreatSchools.org maps 118 high schools. Remarkably, if you are willing to travel 25 miles from 92003, there are almost 200 high schools from which to choose.

This is a very good thing. Choice! Diversity! We actually do not have a government monopoly on education in North County, a very good thing. 

There are 7,798 housing units within the Bonsall Unified School District. A 10% increase (about 780 housing units) would generate a corresponding 10% increase in the students choosing BUSD’s programs (250 District-wide, including 35 in high school). A 20% increase in housing units (1,560) would generate about 500 students with 70 in high school, certainly not enough to support building a large new high school and certainly not in Fallbrook on a site the voters have rejected five times since 1978. Measure EE is Attempt #6 for this site, located just 1.1 miles from the northern edge of the District in Fallbrook’s Gird Valley. 

While BUSD’s developer-generated projections are clearly overly aggressive, so are its budget projections. BUSD’s 2018-2019 budget overestimated revenue by $850,000 (100 students never materialized), underfunded its reserve for maintenance and underestimated its expenses ($242,000 approved for design work related to the Gird Road site is conspicuous by its absence). BUSD is firmly on track for another year of deficit spending. 

Today’s reality is smaller families started later in life. As a result, California predicts its public schools are entering a long-term declining enrollment trend. While its enrollment projections are overstated, BUSD’s actual enrollment figures already reflect this shift with substantial declines at the elementary school level for the 2018-2019 school year. 

Beware the fuzzy math used in the campaign to pass Measure EE, fuzzy math used to convince voters to accept the burden of additional taxes for building more government-designed brick and mortar.

Community advocate Teresa Platt states, “Fuzzy math has no place in education. For the BUSD Board, I am voting for Dr. Sylvia Tucker and Roger Merchat ONLY, and voting NO on Measure EE.