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District elects to keep all schools

DEL MAR — Following the recommendation of Superintendent Sharon McClain, the Del Mar Union School District board of trustees voted unanimously on Feb. 10 to take school closure off the table as a means to deal with budget cuts, uneven enrollment and a need to relocate the district offices.
The action earned the board a standing ovation from the standing-room-only crowd that included many of the same people who lambasted trustees for the past several months, accusing them of dividing the community.
And not everyone applauded the recent action. Suzanne Hall said she thought the board was acting prematurely. “I understand you don’t want to close a school,” she said. “But I don’t want to see us put our heads in the sand and pretend we don’t have a problem.”
Trustee Annette Easton somewhat agreed, noting that budget issues remain unsolved. McClain said the recently formed Strategic Plan Financial Task Force is working to provide recommendations for savings, guidelines for reserves, long-term budgetary goals and revenue enhancement opportunities.
In addition to recommending no schools be closed, McClain also proposed purchasing a property for the district’s administrative offices and maintenance and operations facilities. She also suggested moving the employee and public preschool and child care to Sycamore Ridge School.
Those facilities are currently located on Ninth Street, west of Camino del Mar, on the former site of Del Mar Shores Elementary. The city bought that property in 2008 for $8.5 million, but is allowing the district to remain until next year.
An advisory committee held 19 meetings since last May to determine if there was excess space within the district to house those facilities. About 40,000 square feet of excess space was identified, but no one school had more than 10,000 square feet, which is not enough to accommodate the administrative needs.
If suitable property isn’t found, McClain recommended temporarily co-locating the offices at Del Mar Hills Academy. Terry Tao, an attorney working with the district, said using less than 10 classrooms would not trigger the need for an environmental impact report or rezoning.
Once the board decided not to close any schools, most of the approximately two dozen people who signed up to speak opted to still do so to protest that recommendation.
Parent Chris Wallace said partial closure, which is what co-location is, would be “equally unpalatable” as full closure. Beth Westburg asked for a definition of temporary. “The ‘temporary’ portable (classrooms) have been here for 12 years,” she said.
Trustee Katherine White agreed, calling temporary co-location “scary” because an end date is unknown. Her suggestion, which failed to garner support, was to move the preschool and child care to Del Mar Hills and house the district offices at Sycamore Ridge because projected growth at that school would almost guarantee the move wouldn’t be permanent.
White also motioned to take co-location at Del Mar Hills out of the equation, but that also was not supported by her colleagues.
President Comischell Rodriguez was successful in her motion to eliminate plans to co-locate or build new offices at Torrey Hills School.
Proceeds from the Shores sale — now estimated at about $8.3 million — can be used to purchase a property, but not for recurring expenses, such as lease payments. Those must come from the general fund, which is used for, among other things, teacher salaries.
McClain said she would be reluctant to give up funds that go to students, however, she is scheduled to address Del Mar City Council at its Feb. 22 meeting to discuss a lease extension to avoid multiple moves.
Realtors working with the district said few properties meet its requirements. The board agreed to house maintenance and operations at a separate location, allowing the agents the look for a smaller building, which could provide more opportunities.
Co-location would mean administrative services would be temporarily housed at different locations, something McClain didn’t recommend. But she said it was a solution district officials could live with in the short term.
Transferring some or all of the Shores proceeds to the general fund for recurring costs is an option. However, that would exempt the district from receiving state construction funds for 10 years. Tao described that as a “dangerous” move. He said a client that did that regrets the decision and is trying to pay back the money so it can once again receive state aid.
White asked staff to at least let the board know how much state funding the district received last year.

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