Friday, September 12, 2014

GUHSD Strongly Opposes Alpine Unification Initiative

The Mount Miguel High School JROTC Color Guard presents the colors as the Governing Board paused to pay tribute to the lives lost on September 11, 2001.
Last night was our first school board meeting for the 2014-15 school year. The Mount Miguel High School JROTC Color Guard presented the colors as we paused to pay tribute to the lives lost on September 11, 2001, a day that we will always remember.
During the meeting, our Governing Board passed Resolution 2015-02, expressing serious concerns about the proposed Alpine unification initiative.  
We were deeply disappointed that the County Committee on School District Organization recently supported a petition for unification of the Alpine School District. This decision may have a very devastating impact on the students, staff and communities within our District.

The Grossmont Board took action to reaffirm its opposition to the Alpine unification petition because of the obvious limitations a unified Alpine district would face in being able to commit the financial resources needed to build and operate a high school that could provide educational and co-curricular programs comparable to those presently offered in the Grossmont District. We believe that the additional financial complexities associated with construction and staffing of a high school, meeting the increased operating expenses, and funding the more expensive programs necessary in a comprehensive high school, are beyond their financial capacity. 

Our Governing Board has responsibly concluded that the Grossmont District cannot afford to incur the additional fixed costs of over $1 million annually, required to operate a new school at this time.  Our Board has further indicated that it will proceed with the construction of a new school in Alpine when enrollment numbers increase to the level identified in the Proposition U Bond language.  That bond language included an enrollment “trigger” of 23,245 in our comprehensive high schools (including our two charter high schools).  We are currently 2,400 students below that number, with further declines projected. 
More concerning, is the action taken by the County Board in their decision to ignore the legally prescribed process for the division of assets and liabilities, and to instead accept the emotional appeals of the petitioners to liquidate up to $70 million dollars in assets (existing schools and classrooms) and then hand them over to Alpine.  Should the process ultimately yield such an outcome, it would significantly disrupt the educational programs presently offered throughout the district, and dramatically limit the educational options available to our students.  It is hard to believe that the group of elected members sitting on the County Board would support a recommendation that would devastate the learning experiences of the students at all GUHSD schools. I am deeply troubled that the County Board of Education has taken an action that disregards the educational programs for the students who make up 96% of the high school students residing in East County.

The legal process I am referring to is defined in Education Code 35560.  In the definition of how assets are to be divided in the unification process, the law states that property will be retained by the District in which territory it resides. Therefore, the land currently owned by Grossmont in Alpine (valued at $23 million) would be transferred to an Alpine Unified School District. All other district-owned property would remain with Grossmont.  All district fund balances except for capital would be divided based on enrollment. Currently, approximately 4% of students in the Grossmont district reside within the proposed new Alpine Unified district.  Total funds transferred would be less than $6.0 million.

The petitioners persuaded the County Board to deviate from this approach, proposing that all of Grossmont’s assets be considered in identifying Alpine’s “share”. This is not possible in that the assets they suggest be transferred do not exist in monetary form.  Ed. Code 35560 stipulates that real and personal property are divided pro rata, as explained above.  By following the petitioners’ thinking, the County is sending a recommendation to Sacramento that could lead to fiscal insolvency for Grossmont.
The County Board’s decision to forward this unification proposal to the California Department of Education, and ultimately the State Board of Education, may one day bring the question of unification and the division of assets and liabilities before the voters for final approval.  Our Board believes that all registered voters residing in the Grossmont Union High School District should be entitled to participate in a decision that will impact our school community.
The County Board is recommending that only voters in Alpine should be allowed to vote.  On behalf of the families in our district (especially the 96% that would not have a voice in the fate of their district), I strenuously object.  Should this election eventually come to pass, I will be urging the State Board of Education to recommend an area of election that includes all of the Grossmont District. Given the significant impacts to both districts and their communities, Alpine and Grossmont, it is imperative that the territory of election include the areas of both districts. All stakeholders should have a voice in the ultimate outcome, in the unlikely event that the State Board one day approves this ill-advised petition.
We will be taking all necessary steps to stop this process from being endorsed by the State Board of Education in Sacramento. I will keep you informed on future developments.

Ralf Swenson