This November, Del Mar Union School District residents will be asked to vote on Measure MM, the $186 general obligation bond to improve school facilities. The bond proposes to fund the complete rebuild of Del Mar Heights Elementary School, a modernization of Del Mar Hills Academy, a ninth district school in Pacific Highlands Ranch, as well as provide for improved safety and technology infrastructure, classroom renovations and repairs and upgrades at all neighborhood schools in Carmel Valley.
The average tax rate for the bond would be a maximum of $29.25 per $100,000 of assessed value. With a median assessed value in the district’s boundaries of $923,038, the proposed tax rate would cost median homeowners approximately $270 per year.
The bond will need 55 percent of the vote to pass.
One of the Yes on MM co-chairs is Christene Renner, an Ocean Air School parent who was vocal throughout the district’s sometimes contentious facilities discussions earlier in the year as the district worked to come up with funding solutions to fix deteriorating school facilities and replace old portables. Renner often stated that a bond is the only way to ensure that general fund money is not used to pay for facilities needs, which would jeopardize the district’s unique small class sizes.
“No other funding currently exists to properly upgrade our schools,” Renner said, noting that the state does not provide funding for school facilities improvement or reconstruction, leaving it a local issue and a challenge for a district in which 87.3 percent of the budget funds teacher and staff salaries. “We need to educate our children in the best, safest and most innovative facilities that the district can provide.”
Almost immediately after the Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) board voted to place the bond on the ballot in August, the Yes on MM group formed, huddling in the parking lot of the district office. As Renner said, the parents knew it would take a committed group of volunteers to get MM to pass.
She said so far the group’s grass roots efforts have been successful—volunteers have come together to phone bank and canvas the district, they have put out about 400 yard signs, sent direct mailers and held a rally at the MM headquarters in Sorrento Valley.
MM has also received endorsements from San Diego City Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry, Del Mar Mayor Dwight Worden and former California State Superintendent of Instruction Jack O’Connell.
“We are really pleased to note that there is no organized opposition,” Renner said.
No argument against MM appears on the ballot.
Big Bad Bonds, a statewide group that targets every school bond in California, opposes the bond although the website does not include anything specific to DMUSD or MM. The Republican Party of San Diego County also did not endorse MM (they did not respond to requests for comment).
This will be DMUSD’s second stab at a general obligation bond to improve school facilities—its last effort in 2012 failed by a couple hundred votes.
“The one big difference for us this time around is the San Diego County Taxpayers Association fully endorsed MM and that’s pretty huge because they did not do that the last time,” Renner said. “That really resonated with a lot of voters that we have their support.”
Del Mar parent Sean Wheatley said he volunteered to be co-chair of the bond campaign mainly because of the state of Del Mar Heights School facilities.
“It was always clear to me that Del Mar Heights was in need of substantial renovations to better reflect the caliber of our teachers, students and the community that we live in. However, the urgency became clearer to me last year when I saw two of the school's portable classrooms become uninhabitable mid-year and eventually condemned due to water damage and other problems,” Wheatley said. “The portables at Del Mar Heights are far beyond their intended life span and it isn't hard to imagine that more of the portables could see the same fate in the near future.”
Wheatley believes that the top-performing students and teachers in DMUSD deserve facilities where they can focus on teaching and learning and not working around facility issues.
“Providing a safe environment for our children to learn should be top priority in any community,” Wheatley said.
The Yes on MM campaign also states that a new DMUSD school in Pacific Highlands Ranch is high priority as between 2016 and 2022, it is estimated that 2,500 homes will be built in the east Pacific Highlands Ranch area. Those new homes are currently estimated to generate over 500 new students.
Currently, there is no DMUSD school in that area and families said they sometimes face a drive of 30 to 45 minutes to reach their nearest assigned schools due to traffic.
The existing schools that PHR students are assigned to no longer have the capacity to absorb more students, said Sara Lake,campaign coordinator.
“Two years ago when my son started at Sycamore Ridge there were 450 students, today there are 620. Every one of our classes has between 24-27 students, which puts added stress on our teachers,” Lake said. “Without the passing of Measure MM and a new school in East Pacific Highlands Ranch, costly portable trailer classrooms at Sycamore Ridge are inevitable to accommodate the growing number of students, estimated to reach 1,000 at Sycamore Ridge. We desperately need the passing of Measure MM to alleviate traffic congestion, reduce class sizes and maintain our highly skilled teachers to provide the exceptional education our district is known for.”
Renner said a big part of Yes on MM’s work is educating the many voters in the district who do not have children in the schools about why they should support this bond. She said they remind people that schools serve as the hub of a community and that good schools make neighborhoods more desirable places to live and support property values.
“Our amazing school district is important to the health of this community,” Renner said.
As Renner stressed, taxpayer protections are included in the bond. The MM language includes the requirements that bond funds will only be used for the specific projects listed and that the district will conduct annual independent audits as well as the appointment of a citizens’ oversight committee to oversee expenditures of bond funds.
None of the money from MM can be used to increase salaries, benefits or pensions for administrators, teachers or any other school employees.