Education Matters: The map fiasco

Marsha Sutton

The controversy in the San Dieguito Union High School District over the redistricting map process took an interesting turn when the issue was bumped up a level after the San Diego County Office of Education’s board voted to take control.

At an April 4 meeting regarding the status of SDUHSD’s chosen Map 8, the county’s office of education criticized the district for not holding a public meeting or correcting alleged illegal votes until after the Feb. 28 deadline.

“The County Board of Education acting as the San Diego County Committee on School District Organization voted unanimously to proceed with creating an alternative map, as they indicated during their meeting,” said San Diego County Office of Education Communications Strategist Jennifer Rodriguez.

The deadline for proposing and adopting a “qualified map” will happen prior to April 30, according to the county board.

It seems I was one of the few who saw this SD County Office of Education (SDCOE) board meeting agenda item, which was sent out at 6 p.m. on Sat., April 2 for an 8 a.m. Monday morning meeting.

Sadly, I had nothing better to do on a Saturday night, apparently, than read school board agendas.

My scoop on the story, as it were, caught all five SDUHSD board members and Supt. Cheryl James-Ward by surprise, none of whom were informed by SDCOE of the meeting in advance – although at least 13 speakers at that meeting, all opposed to Map 8, obviously knew about it.

I asked County Supt. Paul Gothold and SDCOE board president Rick Shea three times if they had notified James-Ward – and if not, why not – and to date have received no reply.

How this special meeting came about, given the unusual timing of the agenda posting and the early morning meeting less that 48 hours later, feels shifty.

And not notifying San Dieguito board members or the superintendent makes it feel not just shifty but downright devious.

“I believe it was inappropriate that neither the superintendent, president, nor any other board members were provided ANY notice of the county meeting which reflects a clear lack of transparency by the county,” said SDUHSD board president Mo Muir.

First hearing April 6

The first of three public hearings on the map process is scheduled for Wed. April 6 at 6 p.m. at the San Dieguito district office at 710 Encinitas Blvd. in Encinitas.

James-Ward said on April 5 that she was told of this in a letter she received the afternoon of April 4 from County Supt. Gothold, “informing me that the San Diego County Committee on School District Organization was going to convene a meeting on Wednesday regarding the CVRA Map.”

The second hearing will be April 13 at the San Diego County Office of Education at 6 p.m., and the third will be held April 20 when the county would take action “to continue the process of selecting an alternative map,” as the passed motion reads.

SDUHSD was originally divided into five generally balanced sub-areas. But the 2020 census exposed a shift in population growth, with greater growth in the southern portion of Carmel Valley, requiring a re-balancing.

The school board voted 3-2 in February, before the Feb. 28 deadline, to approve so-called Map 8, out of 12 map options. However, alleged Brown Act violations placed this decision in limbo.

According to San Diego attorney Cory Briggs, “The on-line posting of an agenda shall be posted on the primary Internet website homepage” – which he asserted was not done. Nor he claimed, was there a proper public hearing.

This, he wrote in a letter to the district, constituted a violation of the Brown Act which can only be rectified by holding a meeting and “fully rescinding all illegal actions” taken at three February board meetings.

At the March 30 SDUHSD school board meeting, seven items on the agenda had to be re-done as a result.

Map 8 was again approved, in a 3-2 vote.

Flawed process

Map 8 is a bad choice, and not just because of the alleged violations.

First, it was supposed to be a minor adjustment to even out population centers. Map 8 looks like an amoeba growing tentacles.

Second, it divides the Solana Beach School District into three separate sub-areas of San Dieguito, splitting the community.

Third, it looks politically arranged – optics are everything.

And fourth, I’m going to make my case again for the board’s failure to include in each of the five sub-areas one high school and one middle school, as was done before.

I disagree strongly with Trustee Michael Allman when he said at the March 30 meeting that having each area include one high school and one middle school was not important.

Of course trustees are elected to represent the entire district – just as city council members represent the City of San Diego and county supervisors represent the best interests of the entire county.

But if school districts are going to have sub-areas – like the city and county do – then constituents in those sub-areas vote for the person they feel can best represent their particular interests, as well as the agency as a whole.

Allman’s idea of rotating middle schools and high schools among the five trustees on a regular basis is unworkable and cumbersome – and denies constituents their right to approach the person they elected to the school board to address their particular needs.

Besides, with a district and board that can’t seem to fight their way out of a paper bag, can you imagine the logistical nightmare of trying to organize representation of schools on a rotating basis?

Map 8 is flawed, and the process for choosing Map 8 is more flawed. But rectifying the situation with a stealth meeting by the county is simply another layer of suspicious activity that casts a shadow over any outcome.

Opinion columnist and education writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at