EDUCATION MATTERS: Del Mar dominates local 2009 education stories

By Marsha Sutton

Contributor

Retrospectives, common this time of year, provide perspective on where we were 12 months ago, where we traveled, and how far we've come.

The biggest news for education in California in 2009 was, of course, the devastating effects of the state's miserable financial condition on public schools. Never before has public education in this state been faced with such a budget crisis. And next year promises to be not much better.

Managing the funding shortfall and juggling priorities were the top worries for every San Diego County school district in 2009. However, other pressing issues also presented themselves – in abundance, for one district in particular.

Four school districts serve local communities: the kindergarten-through-sixth-grade Del Mar Union School District and Solana Beach School District, the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade Rancho Santa Fe School District and the grades 7-12 San Dieguito Union High School District.

Solana Beach, headed by Leslie Fausset, hummed along like a well-oiled machine this year. So did Rancho Santa Fe, where the uproar over purchasing land for a second school site, which sent the wealthy community into an unseemly tizzy in years past, disappeared for the most part once the fallback decision was made to expand existing facilities.

After abandoning its quest to purchase land for a second site, the RSF district now faces minimal opposition to the massive construction project on campus that a few parents say disrupts learning. The relative calm is a relief for superintendent Lindy Delaney who tried to navigate the treacherous political waters for years before finally giving up on buying land.

Most of the San Dieguito news centered around its transition to a Basic Aid district, which provides a different funding method based mostly on property taxes. This eventually will provide the district with more money but in the meantime creates planning and financial nightmares that keep superintendent Ken Noah awake at nights. A Torrey Pines High School student charged with driving under the influence and gross vehicular manslaughter also dominated the news later in the year.

But by far the winner – if you can call it that – in local media attention this past year was the Del Mar Union School District, where extended studies funding issues, a restructuring of the nonprofit education foundation, teacher layoffs, dozens of special closed session meetings, a new superintendent under fire, and the need for a new district office have made the DMUSD Board of Education a soft target for dissatisfied parents and teachers.

For a review of the local 2009 education stories, selected "Education Matters" columns, quotes, personal observations and headlines follow.

January

Column:

"Hitting the submit button on college applications"

Excerpt:

While the number of students may have decreased slightly, "the number of applications due to everyone being nervous is going to go up," said independent college adviser Ruthi Warburg. "So it's not going to be an easier year."

Column:

"Adapting to the emerging independence of first-year college students"

Excerpt:

"I understand their newfound independence, but when two of the four members of a household are operating on 'bat time' (up until 4 a.m. and sleeping until 1 p.m.) and the other two aren't, it begins to take a toll," said a parent.

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