Education Matters: Adult Transition Program the latest in a series of district missteps

What’s left to say about the San Dieguito Union High School District’s Adult Transition Program debacle?

Given the administration’s track record this past year, it’s no surprise that this program, which serves special education students ages 18-22, got bungled.

No vision, no leadership, no planning, no transparency, no communication, no answers, no solutions. The pattern repeats itself.

Lots of empty platitudes, meaningless apologies, embarrassments, back-pedaling, poor excuses, a circle-the-wagons CYA mentality. And that’s not just for ATP.

Looking back this past year, let’s list the ways this district has fallen short.

The disastrous start of school at Torrey Pines High School saw hundreds of students flooding counseling offices to fix scheduling errors, severely disrupting classes for days and days.

Dozens of students and parents mobilized to demand the reinstatement of Torrey Pines AP physics teacher Will Harvie after his forced resignation. Under intense public pressure at a raucous school board meeting, the board relented and voted to refuse to accept his resignation, an action unheard of before in the district. With the physics department in turmoil, Advanced Placement students were in despair over precious lost instructional time. Harvie’s two weeks of “retirement” were recorded as a leave of absence.

Again at Torrey Pines, charges of pay-to-play surfaced in the school’s baseball program (a recurrent problem in athletics departments at all the district’s high schools). Although a district-funded investigation found little evidence of pay-to-play wrong-doing at TPHS, parent Wendy Gumb is challenging the findings and has filed an appeal with the state’s Calif. Dept. of Education over the pupil-fee issue, so it’s not over yet.

In a related matter, trustees at a recent board meeting reviewed allegations of favoritism connected to the construction and use of the TP baseball batting cages. Steps are being taken to address the issues.

The district’s high school foundations are under fire for the way teams and clubs structure their appeals for money, a perpetual complaint. One Torrey Pines volleyball team email read, “The foundation has asked that everyone get the bus fee in ASAP, or your son may not be allowed to ride the bus to and from games. If they do not ride the bus, they cannot play.” No question that this is pay-to-play.

The decision to offer costly stipends to determine the number of teachers planning to retire was a bust. The intent, brought to the board for a vote by SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill, was to get in early on the hiring process for those hard-to-fill teaching positions of science, math and special education.

For no logical reason, the district extended the offer to all employees – upper management and classified personnel including receptionists, bus drivers, gardeners, maintenance workers and others.

Of the 36 employees who took advantage of the 5-percent stipends, only four were teachers of math and science. No special ed. teachers retired.

The district’s mishandling of and opposition to the SOUL charter school petition led the SOUL team to seek approval from the county, which was granted. Dill was the only speaker at the county Board of Education’s meeting to oppose approval. Now we hear expressions of cooperation and assistance for SOUL – too little, too late.

The district says its test return policy ensures that tests and quizzes (those that are not national or district-wide assessments) must be released to students to take home for parental review when requested. Yet this continues to be challenging for parents who ask for this basic right. Teachers hedge, deny and stall – while principals make excuses and pretend to be powerless. Where is leadership from the district office to ensure that this student-friendly policy is enforced?

The 22-acre site at La Costa Valley in what’s technically a tiny section of Carlsbad was turned into an athletic center. The city of Carlsbad was asked to oversee the site, even though San Dieguito is based in Encinitas. Carlsbad first accepted and then rejected the offer, and now in a setback the district will oversee use of the center itself.

Parents continue to be bombarded with desperate pleas for basic educational materials and supplies, like Kleenex and science equipment. Equally disturbing is the lack of financial support for music programs. SDUHSD seems content to rely on parent donations for music, in contrast to the support neighboring districts provide to their music programs, which they regard as essential and integral to a well-rounded education.

Meanwhile, $6.5 million in general fund money is spent annually on a 12.5-percent salary increase awarded to every employee last year by a 3-2 board vote. It’s hard for the district to poor-mouth and beg parents for cash when the district behaves internally as if money grows on trees.

Support for state Sen. Anthony Portantino’s start times bill, which states that middle and high schools can start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., is a no-brainer, if the district is serious about improving the health, well-being and academic performance of its students.

“Let’s show some leadership and support this bill,” SDUHSD board member John Salazar wrote to fellow board members. The response? Crickets.

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There’s more, so much more. Next week the list continues. But there is a solution. It starts at the top with the school board.

– Opinion columnist and Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.

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