San Dieguito school district enrollment study group work complete; public meetings to follow


The San Dieguito Union School District’s high school enrollment study group met for the final time on Feb. 17, handing off their months of work and discussion to the district, which will be tasked with taking the next step of public input and decision-making.

For the first time, the enrollment study group’s meeting was open to the public.

Superintendent Rick Schmitt said he made the decision to open the committee’s meeting in response to community suggestions that they should be open for the sake of transparency and in response to an allegation that the closed meeting sessions were illegal. (The high school enrollment study group has been working since November to explore the district’s options after several parents opposed the high school lottery enrollment process at San Dieguito High School Academy and Canyon Crest Academy.)

Schmitt said that the closed meetings were legal in that this is an ad-hoc committee without any decision-making power, and that a quorum of school board members is not attending. He said the district has several parent-involved committees that are not open to the public, such as the Pacific Trails Middle School planning committee.

To “balance perception and reality,” Schmitt decided to open the last meeting to the public.

Four guests attended the three-hour session: one parent, two media members and SDUHSD board member Mo Muir.

“The group has been doing really good work; they’ve been incredibly transparent,” Schmitt said, noting that members have discussions with constituents and all meeting notes are posted.

Schmitt said he was proud of the way the district has responded to concerns about the selection process and in forming this ad-hoc committee.

“I didn’t want to make a decision on the run last summer that would affect thousands of families over time,” he said.

The district hired an unbiased facilitator in Leonard Steinberg to move the district forward and Schmitt said he looks forward to the next steps, which will include plenty of public input via community forums and surveys.

Michael Grove, associate superintendent of educational services, said he hopes to start the community forums in early March. He is planning meetings at each middle school in the district, targeting families with seventh-grade students or younger because they will be affected by the district’s decision.

Grove said he’s heard the committee referred to as “the boundary group,” which he took issue with because they have not been drawing any lines. As their crafted mission statement reads, their purpose is to develop options to present for the board’s consideration.

“We will openly communicate our findings in the spirit of community representation and will use a fair and fact-based process to promote the best interest of all students,” the statement reads.

The group narrowed the options that they will neutrally present to the board:

• No district boundaries, 100 percent lottery for all four schools

• Boundary for all schools

• A boundary mix, status quo with improvements to the system

• Small boundary around all schools, plus a lottery

• Small boundary around the academies, plus a lottery

• Small boundary around all schools, plus a north-south boundary

In small groups, the committee discussed the viability of each option, finding that each presents its own challenges and concerns about equity.

Members questioned the lottery system as being “inherently unfair” and “inherently frustrating.” They noted that a small boundary could eliminate the neighborhood school problem of a student living close to a campus but not getting in, but it could also create a bigger lottery with students from all the surrounding areas and possibly even more problems.

Also, having a boundary doesn’t always eliminate a lottery: Grove explained that by law, a lottery must be held when more kids apply to attend a school than it has seats for.

Already 500 students do not attend their boundary middle school and attend a choice middle school through intra-district transfers. Grove said as of 2015-16, the district would be changing the way it handles intra-district transfers; they’ve become so popular that they might have to go to the lottery system.

Grove said transfers occur most between Oak Crest and Diegueno. It hasn’t been an issue at Carmel Valley Middle because the school is overcrowded and it has not accepted intra-district transfers.

Before breaking into their small group discussions, the committee aired some of the rumors that they have heard regarding their work — everything from parents asking, “Where’s the problem?” to parents who believe that new boundaries have already been drawn. Others have asked why the district was able to allow all freshmen into Canyon Crest and San Dieguito last year, and why they did not in years past when students could not get into their school of choice.

There was also discussion about this newspaper’s columnist Marsha Sutton questioning the closed process. Committee members said that they believed their process has included serious, collegial discussions that have helped them understand the facts surrounding a very complicated issue.

Nearly all of the committee members said they had been educated by the process and hoped they could clearly educate and inform the rest of the community on why the district operates the way that it does and what they could be able to do next.