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Bonsall unification effort discussed by FUHSD board

At its November 16 board meeting, the Fallbrook Union High School District (FUHSD) board of trustees discussed Bonsall Union School District’s (BUSD) efforts to establish a grade K-12 unified school district and the effect unification would have on the Fallbrook High school district.

If approved, the geographic boundaries currently in existence for Bonsall elementary schools and middle school would mean all students in grades nine through 12 within those areas would attend high school in Bonsall.

Plans to develop a high school to serve the Bonsall district began in September 2006, when the San Diego County Superintendent of Schools received a petition from the Chief Petitioners that proposed the formation of a Bonsall unified district.

The petition was deemed insufficient, however, and returned. In May 2007, the petition was resubmitted with additional signatures and approved by the Superintendent of Schools and Registrar of Voters.

After a public hearing on the petition, the County Commissioner voted to pass the Bonsall unification petition to the California Department of Education (CDE).

The petition currently awaits CDE action, tentatively scheduled for a hearing early next year.

If the CDE votes to allow the unification to go to a public vote, it will need to be determined what areas will be included in the vote, either the territory in the current Bonsall district or the territory in the current FUHSD.

The Education Code and California Code of Regulations require that nine conditions be met by the school district before such unification can be possible.

In 2007 the Bonsall district only met five of the criteria substantially and one criteria conditionally when a study of feasibility was conducted.

Recently, the CDE requested updated information regarding the possibility of the unification from FUHSD.

The FUHSD board was informed of several significant impacts a Bonsall high school would have upon the Fallbrook district.

The most significant impact would be a loss of 571 students from the current enrollment at the Fallbrook schools.

This loss would translate into a reduction of teaching positions, reduced course offerings for students, more limited co-curricular opportunities and a significantly smaller revenue limit income, said FUHSD board chair Bill O’Connor.

Removing the students from FUHSD could significantly impair the district’s ability to offer the same amount of educational programs currently offered, said O’Connor.

If the students were removed from attendance at FUHSD, many of the already limited-size special programs would be too small to appropriately staff and operate, he said.

“It is a priority to our district that all students participate in a quality education, especially in the Fallbrook district,” said FUHSD superintendent Dale Mitchell. “We are concerned about the quality of education provided for all students involved. We must make sure to address their needs, which is why we have focused on 21st century learning. This is a perfect example of the educational strategies we are using to enhance the experience for all students.”

The feasibility report found that if the 571 students within Bonsall district boundaries were removed from FUHSD, only 268 students would be replaced by new development in the Fallbrook community, leaving 258 seats unfilled over the next 20-year period.

In addition, any district property that falls within the Bonsall boundaries would transfer to the new unified district, and there would need to be a redistribution of the debt on the existing FUHSD bonds, since the facility would no longer serve Bonsall students.

O’Connor said it was opinion that the expenses involved in running a high school would not be a “sound financial investment” for the Bonsall district.

“It is not a significant capital investment,” said O’Connor. “The Bonsall district would have to absorb all of the expenses that come with running a high school.”

Assuming that all 571 students currently residing within the Bonsall school district and currently attending high school within FUHSD were to enroll in the future Bonsall high school, the school would be categorized as a small high school.

While small high schools have been proven to work – if their funding for teacher salaries, classroom supplies and supplemental services is adequate – the feasibility report stated that the proposed high school would be $516.19 per average daily attendance short of offering similar salaries and benefits as the existing FUHSD.

It was mentioned that this potential shortfall of revenue could restrict available support for teacher salaries, classroom supplies and supplemental services, thereby having a disruptive influence on the educational performance of the students.

The inadequate funding could also fail to attract qualified teachers needed to staff the high school and could make providing adequate supplies and services impossible, it was said.

“Our biggest hurdle is the fiscal element,” said Justin Cunningham, BUSD superintendent. “[FUHSD] would be significantly impacted, but one must ask if Fallbrook High School is a facility that can handle that amount of students anyway, or if it’s too overcrowded to have an effective impact.”

Cunningham believes that technology advancements will allow for an adequate learning environment for future high school students.

“We are looking for something that can be feasible in a few years,” he said. “Who knows where online learning will be and how different teaching the curriculum will be. Students could be working on a desktop or something that allows them Internet access, since that is where their assignments will be.”

Finding a building that would be an adequate site for a high school in Bonsall is also a concern, said O’Connor.

According to the study, an appropriate size for the high school with an allowance for growth would be “about 30 acres.”

A limited amount of undeveloped land is available within the proposed Bonsall district for between $50,000 and $100,000 per acre.

If the proposed Bonsall unified school district purchased 30 acres and developed the land to accommodate a high school, development costs could be between $9 million and $10 million.

Using 2008 Office of Public School Construction and State Allocation Board adopted standards for construction costs, a 600-student high school would cost approximately $13,050,000 to construct. Another $2 million would need to be added for contingencies and unforeseen costs.

The study estimates that the Bonsall high school would cost approximately $25 million, or approximately $41,667 per student seat.

Cunningham confirmed that while there is no building to house the high school presently, steps would be made to “adequately meet the needs” of any future students.

“We are looking at facilities for a school of the future,” said Cunningham. “We are not trying to replicate a comprehensive high school like the one found in Fallbrook.”

O’Connor said the proposed reorganization “will not continue to promote sound education performance and may significantly disrupt educational programs in the both districts.”

According to the study, although students in the Bonsall school district have scored higher on the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test measuring Academic Performance Index, the average level of difference between BUSD and Vallecitos School District was 6.33 percent.

This indicates that formation of the proposed BUSD would not significantly impact the level of students entering FUHSD as measured by the STAR test.

“We are looking to provide something that students may be searching for and cannot get <at Fallbrook High School>,” said Cunningham. “We may be more focused and provide art, technical or academic focus.”

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