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Parents weigh in on school plan

DEL MAR — About half of the 70 or so people who attended a Dec. 10 public hearing signed up to provide input to a Del Mar Union School District advisory committee on six proposals the group is considering to help the district address declining revenue and enrollment.
Some were angry, a few presented facts and others were emotional. Although the tone of delivery may have varied, the message was the same.
Nearly everyone said school closure should be considered only as a last resort or, better yet, removed as an option.
Speakers ranged from parents whose first child was just starting kindergarten to those whose children have long since completed elementary school.
“I’m losing sleep over this and I don’t even have kids here,” Larry Shank said. The father of an 18- and 22-year-old, Shank said he donated trees, time and money to Del Mar Hills Academy when his children were students there.
“The value of a neighborhood school is inestimable,” he said. “To consider closing a school and taking away that experience … is really off the charts,” he told committee members. “You do everything you can to keep this school open.”
The group, known as the 7/11 committee, was formed earlier this year to review projected school enrollment and other data to determine the amount and use of any surplus space in the district.
Four of the district’s eight schools were listed for possible closure in some early proposals. Currently, only one scenario being considered would close a school — Del Mar Hills. The remaining proposals suggest configurations that would require remodeling four schools to accommodate the district offices, which must relocate by 2011. The offices are now located on the campus of the former Shores Elementary School, which was purchased by the city.
Citing safety, traffic and loss of space, many speakers — mostly parents of Torrey Hills students — opposed placing the district offices on a school campus. Those objections are among a variety of opinions that seem to have pitted one school community against another.
“Del Mar Hills has apparently become a target for closure simply because it is a small school,” said Bill Morris, the father of two Del Mar Hills students.
“I see that Torrey Hills parents have had a letter-writing campaign to close the Hills,” he said, likening the move to bullying. “We all teach our children not to bully others, but as parents it is apparently accepted behavior to solve the district’s financial woes on the back of one school.”
Morris encouraged Torrey Hills parents to visit Del Mar Hills. “They might realize that the children whose lives would be disrupted by this closure are identical to their own children,” he said. Morris said he supports locating the district offices on school campuses. “We all give up a little of our blacktop, and in return we get to sleep at night knowing we did not try to throw our neighbors under the bus,” he said.
“I can see it’s already tearing apart the community,” said Jeff Harasha, whose first child is a kindergartner at Del Mar Hills. Harasha blamed the current state of the economy for many of the district’s financial woes. “The money will return to the schools,” he said. “But if you close a school, it’s gone for good.”
Qun Wei, a Torrey Hills parent, said students in her neighborhood attended Del Mar Hills and Del Mar Heights before Torrey Hills was built. She said as far as she knew, the transition was easy.
She said students also transferred from Torrey Hills to Ocean Air when that school opened. “I’m not aware of any kids shedding tears when they went from Torrey Hills to Ocean Air,” she said. “They adapt.”
Wei told committee members they need “to make a decision based on logic.”
“All our schools are good,” she said. “You need to look at the big picture that benefits all (schools).”
The board of trustees asked the 7/11 committee to submit no more than five proposals in January. The recommendations are advisory only. The board can choose one proposal, a combination of proposals or none at all, Superintendent Sharon McClain said.