Pint-size protesters marched before the Del Mar Union School District's 7/11 committee meeting on Monday carrying hand-drawn signs sending messages such as "Save our School" and "I love Ashley Falls."
Inside a full multiuse room at Ashley Falls, facilitator Gayle Wayne reiterated that the 7/11 committee is not closing any schools, it is simply an advisory committee to tell the board how it can use surplus space and find a new home for the district office as well as room for a for-profit preschool.
So far it has seven scenarios that it is looking at: closing Del Mar Hills, reconfiguring schools into kindergarten through third and fourth through sixth, and closing a Mello Roos supported school such as Ashley Falls. A new option, which would not require closing schools, was proposed Monday.
Closing a school is not the preferred option, said committee member Bob Shopes, adding that they have to look at every option.
Del Mar Hills parent Beth Westburg said that closing a school wouldn't even be necessary if they weren't taxed with finding a "Taj Mahal"-like space for the new district office with a square footage never voted on by the school board.
Westburg also said that closure decisions shouldn't be based on a preschool concept also never approved by the board.
"The preschool should be taken off the table immediately," Westburg said, noting that there has been no business plan presented for such a facility. "Will the community even support a preschool? What if it lost money - could the district afford the risk?"
Westburg said that it is irresponsible to close a school or move children into portable classrooms on another campus to make room for a for-profit preschool.
"It's morally, ethically wrong for the district to make money off the backs of any child," said Westburg to an extended round of applause.
Susan Paul, Torrey Hills principal and 7/11 committee member, said that the preschool is not just for-profit and would also serve employees' children and special needs children.
"No member of the district administration loses sight that the first thing we need to look at is the children," Paul said.
Mello Roos questions remain
The committee members will make a progress report at the Aug. 26 school board meeting, but they are not yet ready to make any recommendation.
The district's ability to close a Mello Roos school, where taxpayers paid to build the neighborhood facility, is still something they are seeking answers on. There is no existing school district case law on issues of Mello Roos, Wayne said.
"It's an open legal question we don't have legal judgment on," Shopes said.
Nearly all the schools in the district were built with some form of funding district; only Del Mar Hills and Del Mar Heights are not tied to Mello Roos.
Some sites also have city-owned resources that could make closure complicated, Wayne said. The city owns parking lots or parks at Carmel Del Mar and Ashley Falls and Sycamore Ridge has an agreement with Pardee Homes to save spaces for future growth.
Wayne said to close Sycamore Ridge would violate the agreement and require district boundaries to be altered or force the district to acquire land for a ninth school.
A new option presented by Shopes on Monday proposes that no schools are closed and noninstructional uses be spread among surplus space among different campuses.
Shopes' option has administration offices at Ashley Falls and Carmel Del Mar, maintenance and operations at Del Mar Hills, employee childcare at Del Mar Heights and the preschool at Sycamore Ridge and Torrey Hills.
He said it offers the lowest cost savings but no school would be closed or reconfigured and it allows all students to stay where they are.
As school closures are spoken of, chaos is being created in communities, Westburg said. Schools on the west side of the freeway are being pitted against the schools on the east as parents fight to save their school, she said.
Instead of being divided, she said the district should come together with parents rallying as they did with the Extended Studies Curriculum fundraising so that no school needs to be closed.