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Opinion: Education Matters: When a map resolution isn’t about a map

The resolution on the San Dieguito Union High School District’s Board of Education meeting on June 23 to accept the San Diego County Office of Education’s redistricting map was not approved, by a vote of 2-2.

Marsha Sutton
(Courtesy)

Trustees Julie Bronstein and Katrina Young, who had argued vigorously for the county to take over the map process and openly supported the county’s map, voted against the resolution – causing confusion, bewilderment and even anger.

When I asked them both why they voted no, since they gave no reason for their opposition at the public board meeting, Young never replied and Bronstein’s only on-the-record reply was that she had no comment.

I asked one of the (many) school district’s attorneys for any explanation, and never received a reply.

I asked SDUHSD’s interim superintendent, Tina Douglas, to tell me who wrote the resolution, and – after calling and emailing her half a dozen times – she finally wrote back with this: “Sorry but I can’t answer your specific question at this time because the matter is still in active litigation.”

Although Douglas refused to tell me who wrote the resolution, clearly it was one of the school district’s attorneys. The language had “lawyer” written all over it. Why the secrecy is baffling.

So I took a closer look at the resolution and began to surmise that the map resolution actually had more to do with a pending lawsuit against the school district that centered on possible illegalities over the first map, the one the majority of SDUHSD’s trustees supported and the one that Bronstein and Young opposed.

Background

To back up, after census figures indicated that the school district’s five sub-areas were no longer balanced in numbers, due to heavy growth in sub-area 5 (the southern-most part of Carmel Valley), a new map was needed to create a more equitably distributed population.

The school board voted 3-2 (trustee Melisse Mossy has since resigned) to approve so-called Map 8, which went well beyond a simple adjustment as required. Map 8 carved up the district in a seemingly haphazard manner, dividing communities and elementary school districts and igniting a firestorm of protest.

It also resulted in a lawsuit against the district brought by two San Dieguito residents who are represented by San Diego attorney Cory Briggs.

Responding to community outrage and based on a legal interpretation of deficiencies in SDUHSD’s map process, the county claimed it had the right to review and potentially overturn Map 8.

After several public hearings, the county proposed a new map which was more of a simple boundary adjustment and addressed the concerns of those opposed to Map 8.

Since the new map would seem to resolve the objections raised in the Briggs lawsuit, is the litigation now moot?

Two attempts to contact Briggs went unanswered.

Troublesome clauses

What’s curious is that SDUHSD didn’t even need to pass any resolution to approve the county’s map.

When I asked the county whether the district needed to vote to accept the county’s map, Chief of Staff Music Watson said in an email, “Legally, the county’s map is in place anyway. The map we developed was submitted and accepted without objection by the Registrar of Voters; it is the map that is being used for the next election.”

Bronstein and Young voted against the resolution, presumably not because they didn’t like the revised map. Both have said they supported the county’s map over the school district’s Map 8.

So why the no vote?

Several of the resolution’s “whereas” clauses state that the district followed all the rules and submitted a legitimate map in a timely manner, and that may be the point of contention.

The San Diego County Office of Education, in its decision to take over the map process, stated in its April 4 agenda that San Dieguito violated the law by not holding a public hearing until after adoption of Map 8, among other alleged violations.

Said SDCOE board president Rick Shea in an email at the time, “We are aware that the public hearing standards were not met prior to the deadline for submission of a qualified map. Consideration of action is appropriate given issues calling into question the timeliness and legality of the district’s action to adopt a redistricting map, thus triggering the County Committee’s mandatory duty under Education Code section 5019.5(b).”

The school district clearly disputes this assessment.

Moot point

SDUHSD’s resolution contained statements asserting that the district did not violate any legal requirements – which, if accepted, might have weakened the Briggs lawsuit.

“If the board were to accept the county map and say we are not going to fight it, why would a lawsuit brought to throw out the district’s chosen map need to proceed?” wrote SDUHSD trustee Michael Allman on a Facebook site.

“They would have gotten what they wanted, so there is no longer any reason to litigate. The case becomes moot at that point, and is thrown out of court.

“All board trustees were advised that it was in the best interest of the district to pass this resolution, and that it was completely factual and not misleading.

“[Y]ou can see that there is nothing controversial in the resolution; it reviews what happened and says we are done and accept the county map.”

My guess is that Bronstein and Young would disagree that the resolution’s clauses are factual.

Whether they want the lawsuit to continue, as cynics might suggest, or whether they simply could not support any resolution stating that the district followed the law when they disagree that it did, is anyone’s guess.

The directive to the attorney who authored the resolution had to be to protect the school district against the Briggs litigation by claiming all rules were followed, which would mean the lawsuit no longer had legs to stand on.

The fact that the resolution failed may mean that the litigation can proceed.

Even though they may have opposed the resolution only because they disputed assertions represented as facts, the no votes by Bronstein and Young may result in more taxpayer money spent to fight the litigation, unless Briggs and his clients choose to call it quits. Unlikely, but possible.

How this proceeds will be interesting to watch. But it seems clear that the map resolution really had little to do with the map.

Opinion columnist and education writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.

Marsha Sutton is a columnist and presents her opinion. If you disagree or agree with her opinion, we’d like to hear from you. Email your comment to editor@delmartimes.net.

Column: Combines reporting, storytelling and commentary to make a point. Unlike reporters, columnists are allowed to include their opinions. Columnists in the Union-Tribune Community Press are identified clearly to set them apart from news reporters.


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