DEL MAR — The Del Mar Union School District board tabled a vote to approve a controversial realignment plan at its May 23 meeting. The plan included closing Del Mar Hills Elementary, expanding Del Mar Heights Elementary, building a new school in Pacific Highlands Ranch and putting a $198 million bond on the November ballot to fund both new construction and reconstruction.
The vote was tabled to give concerned parents time to work with the district to develop a better plan to address the issues of schools in disrepair and investing in children’s education.
Based on the public outcry, the district had little choice but to cancel the vote. At the Del Mar City Council meeting held two days prior to the school board meeting, David Victor and Michael Yanicelli, parents of children who attend Del Mar Heights Elementary, spoke to the council regarding their concerns, and requested that the council take some action.
“The process has been opaque to the community, there has been no transparency,” Victor said. “We are asking the school board to please take note of what’s happening. If this realignment takes place it will be irreversible, parents will lose choices in schools and because Del Mar Heights will be much larger, there will be serious issues with traffic around the school.”
Yanicelli explained that the master plan had changed, noting that no one in the community was aware that the two schools would be combined until the board unexpectedly announced the new proposals in March. He said that there was worry that if people didn’t understand the implications that the bond would fail and “… and then we’ll have no options.”
Del Mar Mayor Dwight Worden agreed and indicated that he would send a letter to the district. In the letter he asked the board to delay the action “ … until we have an opportunity to better understand what the District is proposing, and why.” He explained that the city tries to promote diversity and encourages younger families to move to Del Mar, and expressed concern that the school changes might not be compatible with those efforts, “ … since having, small community-based schools are key to families’ choices as to where to live.”
The combination of Worden’s missive, a letter signed by more than 400 parents asking that the vote be delayed, and the statements made by several people during the public comments section of the district meeting was enough to convince board members that they had to delay the vote.
However, tabling the vote means that the bond will not be on the November ballot. “We are still researching options on building the new school,” Superintendent Holly McClurg said after the meeting. “Right now we don’t have enough revenue from Mello Roos to buy the land, which will cost $9.7 million, and build the new school.”
McClurg said that the deadline to purchase the land is approaching in the next several months, and that she and district board members look forward to discussing those options with community members. “We didn’t have consensus before,” McClurg said, “but we will work to build it going forward.”