By Karen Billing
The Olesky family moved to Carmel Valley to be a part of the Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) and picked their home for its proximity to Ocean Air School, just 500 feet away. They loved the idea of walking their child to school. Now they are faced with the “nightmare” scenario that there is no room for their kindergartner at their neighborhood school.
At the July 27 DMUSD board meeting, parent Harry Dennis described the same nightmare — his wife in tears because their daughter couldn’t go to school with her friends. Of the five kindergarten girls on their street, half are headed for Sage Canyon instead.
Said Boumsellek, who lives 100 yards from Ocean Air, echoed Dennis’ concerns: “I have to explain why all her friends are going to the same school and she can’t get in,” Boumsellek said.
Ocean Air currently has 123 kindergartners, decided by a lottery system. The lottery left 39 children displaced, meaning they will attend Sage Canyon or Torrey Hills instead. An illustration of the district’s current imbalance: Ashley Falls only has 36 kindergartners this year while Ocean Air has swollen to a population of 810 students, the largest in the district.
“We’re trying to accommodate all the families we can,” district superintendent Jim Peabody said.
Right now those options include exploring class size increases, looking at any space in the school that could be used as a sixth kindergarten and talking to legal counsel to see if new priority attendance boundaries can be drawn up.
“I hear you and I understand but we’re dealing with a very complex set of situations,” said trustee Doug Rafner to the parents. “I wish we could wave a magic wand and make it better for everybody.”
Peabody said the district has a history of schools becoming impacted; it happened at Ashley Falls and will likely happen at Sycamore Ridge when Pacific Highlands Ranch is built out, he said.
Ocean Air had the same problem last year but it has been magnified this year. Unfortunately, the fact that six kindergarten classrooms were needed to accommodate children last year means that there are now six first grade classrooms—there’s simply not room at the school.
The district has looked at using the new childcare facility on campus as a potential classroom, converting a teacher workroom and the possibility of integrating technology uses into the library to free up the technology lab as a classroom.
“We’ve looked at every nook and cranny,” Peabody said.
The option of adding portables is difficult, Peabody said, as each temporary structure costs about $200,000 and the district is looking at a budget where they will be deficit spending $3.4 million.
Peabody said there is no money left in the community facilities districts (CFD) so it would have to come out of the general fund.
Ocean Air-area parent Adam Fischer came up with a possible solution by drawing up new priority attendance areas for Ocean Air, Sage Canyon and Torrey Hills.
“It’s really a matter of reducing traffic as well as improving the overall camaraderie of students on the same street going to the same school,” said Fischer. “It will enhance the sense of community.”
Due to the lottery system, there are children who live on Foxhound Way, right across the street from Sage Canyon who are going to Ocean Air; whereas children on Mustang Ridge, which runs parallel to Ocean Air’s Canter Heights Drive, did not get into Ocean Air and are having to drive to attend Sage Canyon.
If the situation were reversed, students could be walking to school instead of having parents drive them and create more traffic on area streets, Fischer said.
At last week’s meeting, even neighborhood parents whose children are younger, such as Allen Jackel who has a 3-year-old and a 3-month-old, wanted to ensure that the problem is solved before their children reach grade school age.
As parent Brian Olesky pointed out, new homes continue to be built in that area of Carmel Valley and the problem is likely to persist.
“Something needs to be done,” Olesky said.
Peabody said they are getting a legal opinion on the priority attendance boundaries.
“We’re very intrigued by it but we have to make sure we don’t violate anybody’s rights in the process,” Peabody said.
He said they have been working for three months with the Dolinka Group, which drew up the CFD to see how they could change the school boundaries and not violate the spirit of the CFD — homeowners in the area paid Mello-Roos taxes to fund local infrastructure like the schools.
“There’s still not a clear picture of what we can and can’t do,” Peabody said.
Peabody said they will look at the possibility of a new boundary study which he admitted will likely cause a lot of angst and unhappy parents but it may be what needs to be done.