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School committee arrives at impasse

DEL MAR — After eight months, 19 meetings and three public hearings, a Del Mar Union School District advisory committee concluded that it could not make one specific recommendation to the board of trustees regarding the use of surplus space and real property.
The group did, however, present the board with a 50-plus-page summary of its work that includes six proposals developed by the seven members. To be submitted as a recommendation, a proposal required approval by 80 percent of the committee, or six of the seven members. That did not happen with any proposal.
The committee was formed last May when the district was facing uneven enrollment at its eight schools, budget cuts at the state level and the need to relocate its administrative offices.
The state education code requires school boards to appoint a 7/11 advisory committee, which must be made up of between seven and 11 people, to secure community involvement and assist in making the best possible judgment regarding every situation involving property or space.
The Del Mar committee was directed by the board to review data such as projected school enrollment to determine the amount of surplus space and real property. The group was asked to prioritize that list and recommend which school or schools should be closed. The committee was told not to consider the sale of school property — a common consideration for other 7/11 committees. Members were also asked to submit several recommendations rather than just one or two.
The committee eventually developed six proposals, two of which would have closed Del Mar Hills Academy. That site was selected as a likely candidate because of declining enrollment, its small size and no planned developments in the area that would result in future enrollment growth.
At several meetings, many parents said the prospects of closing a school or reconfiguring one to house the district offices were dividing the district. Bob Shopes, the committee chairman, said he was not surprised by the community’s reactions to the proposals.
“I knew going in how contentious and emotional this could get,” he said. “It was a tremendous amount of work and an emotional burden, but I’m glad I participated and I’m proud of what our committee did.
“It was a positive experience and it needed to be done,” he said. “Not all things worthwhile are easy.”
Meanwhile, the district continues to look for new space for its administrative offices, which are currently located on Ninth Street at the former home of Del Mar Shores Elementary. That school closed in 1975. The 5.3-acre site was purchased by the city in 2008. The city has allowed the district to remain until May 15, 2011. Officials are looking at two possible sites in the eastern part of the district. Another option is to house the offices at schools in the district with surplus space.
Part of the 7/11 Committee’s report includes recommendations that would place the offices at various school sites. At the 7/11 meetings, parents expressed concerns about traffic and safety should that happen.
The 7/11 Committee’s role was strictly advisory. The board must make a final decision on what to do with information provided by the committee. Board members can choose one of the options presented in the report, combine options or present new ones.
The board will discuss the report at a special meeting Jan. 20 at 6 p.m. at Sage Canyon Elementary School, 5290 Harvest Run Drive. If no decision is made the discussion will continue at the regular board meeting Jan. 27, Superintendent Sharon McClain said.