SBSD continues to eye solutions for PHR students

The Solana Beach School District recently completed the intradistrict transfer process, the first time reviewing school assignment requests under a newly-crafted board policy.

The intradistrict transfer allows parents of any student who resides within district boundaries to apply to enroll their child in any school regardless of the location of their home within the district.

According to Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger, the district received 25 intradistrict transfer requests districtwide. Of the 25, nine were approved and 16 denied. Of those that were denied, two were at Solana Pacific, one at Solana Santa Fe and 13 denied at Solana Ranch.

The selection process includes looking at the school’s enrollment and available space, to optimize the use of facilities and to maintain relatively balanced enrollments. Brentlinger said they are careful when they assign students as they do not want to intentionally create combo classes.

“The process involves more than looking at the number of students requesting admittance. It involves making sure we have balanced classes,” Brentlinger said. “We do not want to exceed class sizes as a result of admitting additional students.”

Those whose transfers were not accepted received a personal phone call. Brentlinger also personally met with some of the parents whose requests were denied.

The majority of transfer requests came from residents of Pacific Highlands Ranch developments who wanted their children to attend their neighborhood school, Solana Ranch.

The board’s updated policy on intradistrict transfers gives transfer priority to students residing in the two Pacific Highlands Ranch CFDs (Community Facilities Districts) or Mello-Roos Districts to attend Solana Ranch. In the past, no priority was given to those living in the CFD.

Sandeep Singhai, an incoming resident of Vista Del Mar in Pacific Highlands Ranch, applied for a transfer to Solana Ranch after learning his three children were assigned to Solana Pacific, four-and-a-half miles away from his new home. Singhai’s request was denied and he said while he was disappointed in the decision, he said he did appreciate that the district’s efforts to call.

Singhai has spoken to the board before about the PHR assignments and made his concerns clear again in a letter to the board on April 30.

“We strongly believe that SBSD has not provided any sufficient or reasonable solution to the schooling needs of PHR,” he wrote. “PHR is a well-planned community and we would expect the school district, the city and the developers to work closely together to anticipate the schooling needs for new communities and come up with reasonable and timely plans for the same. Asking parents to drive their children to elementary schools four to five miles away and to have them somehow deal with it is no reasonable or acceptable solution.”

Singhai said assigning children to schools far from the neighborhood not only jeopardizes student safety but increases traffic on Del Mar Heights Road.

Since 2017, the district has been trying to get a handle on the housing solutions for the students generated from the 515 homes that will be built in Pacific Highlands Ranch between 2019 and 2023.

The district has assigned all of the incoming PHR neighborhoods to SBSD schools and worked to make these assignments prior to homes being on the market.

Last year the board heard numerous concerns about the assignments. Some Artesana residents submitted a petition to be re-assigned to Solana Ranch while some Solana Ranch parents requested the district reverse the decision to send any more students to the school citing an already overcrowded campus.

In response, the district held a series of community outreach sessions and updated the intradistrict transfer policy.

Brentlinger said she understands that some don’t like the decisions that have been made but the district must balance the needs of the entire community as they look at options and recommendations for long-term housing needs. It’s a complicated process, one she has compared to “solving a three-dimensional puzzle on a conveyor belt.”

Staff plans to return to the board in October to determine the criteria for how and when housing developments in Pacific Highlands Ranch will be assigned to Solana Ranch in the future. The board has also not made an official decision about the option to build the district’s eighth school in Pacific Highlands Ranch or expanding Solana Ranch to accommodate students.

“I really want another year’s worth of enrollment to be able to make decisions,” Brentlinger said, noting that Solana Ranch had an anomaly this year in terms of smaller than anticipated kindergarten classes and less students than anticipated coming from new developments.

Brentlinger said they will be watching closely what enrollment looks like in the fall at Solana Ranch to see if it really was a one-year anomaly or a new pattern or trend in enrollment.

One of Singhai’s proposed solutions is that the district provide transportation to all children who have been assigned to a school other than their neighborhood school.

“Even though children will not have access to a neighborhood school, this option will at least alleviate the traffic on Del Mar Heights Road, eliminate unproductive hours of time that parents will spend in the cars and be good for the environment,” Singhai wrote.

Brentlinger said that the district is exploring transportation options and has developed a timeline for the community and board to have a discussion in the fall.