Education Matters: Enrollment numbers, SOUL, and new Prop. AA priorities

At a San Dieguito Union High School District facilities workshop last fall, demographics indicate that enrollment at La Costa Canyon High School will continue to decline, from 1,936 in the fall of 2014 to 1,684 in 2023.

Capacity at LCC is nearly twice that, at 3,172.

Enrollment at Torrey Pines High School is projected to increase slightly, from 2,619 in the fall of 2014 to 2,955 in 2023. Capacity at TP is 3,291.

LCC and TP are the two boundary schools, LCC for the northern portion of the district and Torrey Pines in the south.

The two academies, San Dieguito in Encinitas and Canyon Crest in Carmel Valley, are open enrollment for students district-wide. Demand by students for attendance at both academies remains high, with facilities and resources impacted.

Of the district’s five middle schools, only Pacific Trails in Pacific Highlands Ranch will see increased enrollment through 2023.

Enrollment district-wide during that same period of time appears flat, going from 12,538 in 2014 to 12,863 in 2023.

LCC’s available space

Noticing the decline in enrollment and the amount of available space at La Costa Canyon, thoughts turn to San Dieguito’s charter school, SOUL (School of Universal Learning), which struggled for months to find a suitable facility last year.

The founders finally found a home at the Solana Beach Boys & Girls Club, which allowed them to open last fall, but the location was secured late in the summer which negatively affected enrollment numbers.

This year, according to their rights under California’s Proposition 39, SOUL founders applied for facility space from their home district, San Dieguito, for the 2018-2019 school year.

This application included 96 Intent to Enroll forms completed by students residing within San Dieguito boundaries (80 are required to qualify under Prop. 39).

San Dieguito denied SOUL’s request, writing in a letter that the district “objects to the projected average daily attendance,” claiming that the increase from SOUL’s current ADA enrollment of San Dieguito students to the number expected next school year is unreasonable.

The district used a formula (46 students x 72 percent in-district x 95 percent ADA rate) to calculate 31.46 ADA for SOUL’s current year (SOUL has an enrollment of 46 students but not all reside within San Dieguito boundaries).

Based on this calculation, the district disagreed with SOUL’s projection of 160.55 ADA, claiming the number is closer to 59.6, far less than the required 80.

SDUHSD’s letter also cites SOUL’s inability to meet initial enrollment projections for this year, although SOUL founders say that’s because it was difficult to secure a suitable facility early in the year.

What may be the over-riding reason the district rejected SOUL’s application, however, was after staff contacted every name on the Intent to Enroll list and did not receive “yes” answers from at least 80.

Calling every name

SDUHSD superintendent Eric Dill said in an email that he asked three staff members to call every name on the list which he estimated took about seven hours.

According to the district, SDUHSD staff found 33 families meaningfully interested in SOUL, 17 not meaningfully interested, and the rest did not return calls and could not be reached.

“About one-third of people we spoke with indicated they were not actually interested in dis-enrolling their students from our schools and enrolling in SOUL, so we applied that same proportion to those we could not verify,” Dill said.

So, of the 50 they reached, about two-thirds said they were interested in enrolling. Of the 45 or 46 they could not reach, the district assumed that two-thirds would enroll.

“We also asked them if they intended to dis-enroll from an SDUHSD school to enroll in SOUL, and if they said no, we counted that as a no,” he said.

That’s how the district arrived at its 59.6 number.

For school districts to spend staff time and money to call every name on the Intent to Enroll list is unusual, according to Miles Durfee, Regional Advocacy Vice President for the California Charter Schools Association.

“It is not typical for the district to call all the names on the list,” he said. “It is also not typical to eliminate names just because they do not answer.”

Due diligence

The district has to do its due diligence, said SOUL co-founder Marisa Fogelman.

But there is clearly an intimidation factor when a San Dieguito employee calls and asks parents if they are certain they intend to pull their kids out of a district school – and want to know why.

Fogelman said when parents said they weren’t sure, that was counted as a “no.”

Co-founder Michael Grimes was told that parents were asked why they don’t want a district school for their kids and what they feel SOUL can offer that a district school cannot.

“The next step in this process is for the school to respond to the district’s incorrect ADA projections process,” CCSA’s Durfee said. “I would expect that the charter school is preparing to send a letter to the district by Jan. 2 not agreeing to the methodology that the district used.”

Fogelman said they applied for facility space under Prop. 39 “just to keep our options open” but are prepared to remain at the Boys & Girls Club.

Even if the district decided to offer a portion of La Costa Canyon, she said that “having our own place is more ideal than sharing a site.”

“The Boys & Girls Club facility is beautiful,” she said. “They have been amazing to work with.”

She said their community interests are aligned, the location is central to many families, there’s public transportation, and the students are able to utilize the on-site pool for P.E.

“For all those reasons, we want make this work,” Fogelman said.

She said it’s best for student morale to be consistent and remain at the same location, and “we want to be protective of our culture.”

But finding enough room for future growth may present challenges.

“We would have to get creative,” she said. “But we will try to make it work for another year, because we love being at the Boys & Girls Club.”

La Costa Canyon would also be fine, she said, because a large percentage of their students live in Encinitas and south Carlsbad, although they might lose some families who live farther south.

Facility improvement priorities shuffled

The same facilities workshop disclosed the latest schedules and costs for Proposition AA facility improvements, revealing changes in priorities.

The charts show that many projects have been delayed, some with associated cost increases, explained SDUHSD Associate Superintendent for Business Services Tina Douglas.

“It’s what we thought we were going to do,” she said, “but we can’t do all of that in that time frame.”

The biggest project, the $13 million reconstruction of Sunset High School, has been pushed up and is now a priority item.

It was previously scheduled to begin in 2025. The goal now, said Douglas, is to begin in August 2018.

Also scheduled to begin in August is the modernization of the Industrial Arts and A&B buildings at San Dieguito Academy, a $3.6 million project.

Third on the Aug. 2018 priority list is La Costa Canyon’s weight room (in lieu of the field house), at a cost of $1.44 million.

Three other projects scheduled for Aug. 2018 include:

- Torrey Pines High School’s Arts & Industrial Arts building, the Tech building, and planning for the gym renovation (cost: $944,000)

- Planning for Oak Crest Middle School’s classroom modernization (cost: $520,000)

- Canyon Crest Academy’s Learning Commons, or Media Center (cost: $354,000)

Some delayed projects could be pushed out as far as 2035. The later the projected start date, the higher the cost.

“We’ve seen some escalation costs,” Douglas said, but called the increases “normal escalation.”

The following projects are now delayed (dollar numbers are rounded):

- a new black box theater and dance room at CCA (original estimate when subtracting the cost of the Learning Commons was $3.43 million; with escalation for the delay, new estimate is $5.81 million)

- reconstruction of the gym and remodel of the Mustang Center at SDA (original estimate was $20.8 million; new estimate is $50.53 million)

- a two-story classroom building, science classroom building, administration remodel, and renovation of two buildings at LCC (original estimate was $20 million; new estimate is $26.8 million)

- the multi-purpose room at Oak Crest (original estimate was $2.3 million; new estimate is $3.5 million)

- the parking lot and traffic circle, administration, and multi-purpose room at Diegueno Middle School (original estimate was $13.26 million; new estimate is $35.2 million)

- administration and multi-purpose room at the district’s La Costa Valley site (original estimate was $6.8 million; new estimate is $18.1 million)

Douglas said it’s hard to predict actual costs until the projects begin, and it’s possible the Prop. AA money may run out before all projects can be completed.

“We’re hoping to still do all the projects,” she said, adding that a new bond might be required to provide more funding.

Disneyland

And now for something completely different.

Only three more days until Disneyland’s wondrous world of Christmas lights and decorations ends on Jan. 7.

If you’ve not been to Disneyland during the holiday season, it’s worth a trip.

Yes, it costs an outrageous $110 to get in, not including the $20 parking fee. The drive north generally takes less than 90 minutes, although it can take up to an extra hour to park, go through security, catch the tram, buy tickets and enter the main gate.

So it’s a hassle. But once you’re in, it’s a feast for the senses.

The highlights:

- The Main Street Christmas Tree stands 60 feet high, replete with hundreds of festive decorations.

- Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle is aglow with more than 50,000 twinkling lights, sparkling icicles and shimmering snow-capped turrets.

- The attraction “It’s A Small World” is astonishing, with more than 400,000 lights and festive holiday decorations that celebrate customs for all parts of the globe. It’s sensory overload and enough to make you forget that song that on normal visits worms its way into your brain and won’t let go.

- The Haunted Mansion is transformed into a delightfully creepy combination of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” mixed with its usually impressive Halloween-themed extravaganza. The special effects are truly jaw-dropping. If only the little cars would move slower, to absorb in its complete ghoulish splendor this extraordinary collision of holidays.

- The Main Street parade and elaborate floats are worth the visit alone.

Fireworks, falling snow, special activities for youngsters, strolling musicians, marching bands, festive food and gifts (loved the variety of Mickey ears), and decorations everywhere make the visit quite an experience.

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

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