Guest Editorial – BUSD is at it again
Last updated 2/1/2018 at 2:47pm
Less than two years after its bond defeat, the Bonsall Unified School District (BUSD) is again considering another school bond measure. Here is what you need to know.
In 2013, then superintendent Justin Cunningham campaigned for an independent Bonsall school district with an “academy” style high school curriculum, promising that he wanted only a small 500 (max) student high school on the current Sullivan campus. “No new bonds or taxes needed,” he promised. “We have enough room on the Sullivan campus to grow.” After the district unification passed with a bare majority, BUSD immediately went into debt, borrowing almost $7 million to construct a new two-story building that would accommodate around 330 students. You can see that the promise of “no new taxes or expensive new schools” did not last long.
As part of the breakup of the Fallbrook school district, a parcel of land on Gird Road was offered to BUSD. Interestingly, this property had been determined to be unusable as a school site and had been declared surplus by the Fallbrook school district. Cunningham considered selling it, but soon saw it as property they could use for a new school despite its controversial history. The fact that this same land had been rejected by voters four times was of no concern, nor was strong community opposition from a highly populated Gird Valley area, and beyond. In 2016, measure DD, the $58 million grab to build a new “palace” high school on Gird for 330 (present day) students failed – again.
Now, only two years later, BUSD wants to spend around $100,000 of your money to float yet another bond. As Ronald Reagan so famously said,“There (they) go again…” BUSD claims there is a hoard of new students coming over the hill, and they have to be ready with a brand-new school. But BUSD’s projections are highly inflated. We have done the math and their numbers don’t add up.
Much of the new construction you see along I-15 falls within the Fallbrook district and is already years behind schedule. More importantly, the BUSD academy style curriculum with limited sports and extracurricular activities does not appeal to many students or their parents. Examples: In the 2016-17 school year there were 210 eighth graders and in 2017-18 there were only 105 ninth graders. This means 50% of BUSD eight graders chose not to go to the BUSD high school. Last year 175 high school and 44 junior high students transferred out of BUSD. These were all new transfers and do not count students who previously transferred. (Source: BUSD) These numbers speak for themselves.
Fast forward to present day - Is it any wonder that Dr. Coen, current BUSD board president, now publicly says, “The public doesn’t trust us. We have to change that.” But old habits die hard. The school administration hits upon a plan to assemble a group of citizens and calls them the “Superintendent’s Advisory Committee”, or SAC. Their job is to evaluate parcels of land that meet certain criteria (sewer, water, roads, etc.) for a new high school - you know, the one that Cunningham said they would never build. The property on Gird is BUSD’s first choice, the community be damned, but they need to“sell” that idea to the public. Other potential sites are not considered, and a large parcel called Ocean Breeze that is contiguous to the existing Sullivan campus, and which they can obtain for no cash, only future builder’s credits, is shunned and unfairly degraded.
Remember those rosy projections of new students? They are constantly touted at school board meetings, and SAC is told that time is critical – “we can’t wait, we have to start building.” Of course the new “Committee” is made up of people hand-picked by the administration, and many have either publicly voiced strong approval of Gird, have financial ties to the District, or are actually employed by the District. The assistant superintendent, high school principal and the head of the teachers’ union are also on the committee. Anyone who has publicly voiced objections to Gird Road is rejected. Current superintendent David Jones sits in on the deliberations, which occur behind closed doors with no public records. It is not a surprise that Gird is selected as their first choice, but it is still not a unanimous decision and the final scores are close. Further, the District tries to sell the idea that this committee somehow represents the entire BUSD, but it really only represents the individual members who were hand-picked. Keep all this in mind as the BUSD bond train gathers speed.
BUSD also promotes a sense of urgency so they can get in line for $9 million from state funds. But to qualify, California requires matching funds, which BUSD doesn’t have. The correct solution? Sell Gird to raise the needed cash. An additional factor to consider is that BUSD is financially below state mandated reserves. They have been in deficit spending for the past six years and cannot afford to run an expensive new campus, something they refuse to address.
What next? The school board has voted to hire a polling firm to canvas 400 voters in the Bonsall district (cost $3,500). As we saw in the last presidential election, polls are no longer statistically reliable. But regardless, if the numbers look right to the school board, we may see a Gird school bond measure on the 2018 ballot. If that idea is less than appealing, here is what you can do: (1) If called by the pollsters, tell them you do not support a bond in 2018; (2) Write and/or attend a school board meeting to tell the board how you feel. Call BUSD for information, (760) 631-5200.
Perhaps in the future additional funding will be necessary, but not now. BUSD – sell the Gird property; get your finances in order, then revisit this topic in 2020 or 2022 with a new site that the entire Bonsall community can support. That’s a win-win formula for everyone. For more information visit:www.categrp.com or http://www.savegirdvalley.com.
Citizens for Accountability In Taxation and Education