Del Mar district hearings draw large turnout

Fifty-seven members of the public got up to share their concerns about a number of proposals being considered to reconfigure the Del Mar Union School District, which needs a new place to house its district offices and a practical way to deal with surplus space that will also save money.

After the district’s 7-11 committee, tasked with making a recommendation on surplus space, held two public hearings at Del Mar Hills last week and ventured east of the freeway to Torrey Hills School for a hugely attended meeting on Monday night. More than 100 people filled the seats in the multi-use room.

Ashley Falls and Carmel Del Mar parents spoke out against proposals that put the district office on one of their campuses.

Torrey Hills parents argued their school is not the place for an office either, citing concerns with safety, traffic and limiting play space on an already crowded school.

Del Mar Hills parents made pleas not to close their school and Del Mar Heights parents stated that there is no room to move Hills students to a campus so full there are already 13 portables.

Many parents said the 7-11 committee’s task is an impossible one.

“I’ve read the book before, I’ve seen the movie and I can tell you it doesn’t end well,” said Ashley Falls parent Richard Pasco.

Pasco said he moved to San Diego from Boston where, in order to save money and create recreation centers, they closed schools based on declining enrollment. The projections turned out to be wrong and they were forced to pay millions to reconfigure and rebuild new schools. Property taxes were increased and programs were cut in order to pay for all the new construction.

“It was a shortsighted approach and one I’m afraid we will live here if we’re not careful,” he said. “Change the game. Go back to the board and tell them to take that $8.5 million dollars to buy, build or lease and leave these schools alone.”

Pasco received the night’s most extended and loudest round of applause.

Julie Oh reminded committee members that they have the option of telling the school district board that no surplus space and no viable options are available.

“It’s not a failure on your part,” Oh said. “It’s just as valid a conclusion to come out and say there just isn’t a good option.”

Most people spoke in opposition to proposals although some spoke in favor of closing Del Mar Hills.

Torrey Hills parent Suzanne Hall said the district needs to address the budget shortfall and closing Del Mar Hills is the most financially sound option. Torrey Hills parent Anna Quan agreed, saying that decisions can’t be based on emotions, but facts.

“DMUSD can no longer afford to run eight schools,” Quan said.

Opposition to closing the Hills was strong, as it was at both the Dec. 7 and 10 hearings.

“Each school is like a diamond in a crown, you take one out and it will ruin the whole thing,” said Del Mar Hills parent Subrata Bhattacharjee.

Del Mar Heights parent Diane Jacobs-Baizer said she can’t imagine the impact moving all the Hills students to the Heights would have. She said there is no room to grow on their campus at the end of the cul-de-sac, on the edge of a canyon, where students balance lunch trays on their knees because they won’t sacrifice play space to add more lunch tables.

Some parents said that moving children to a new school in the district would not be a bad thing as all the district schools are wonderful. Torrey Hills parent Joan Wei said that none of the Torrey Hills students cried when Ocean Air opened up and they went to a new school.

“If they love one school, they will love any school,” Wei said.

At the Dec. 10 meeting, Carmel Del Mar parents gave voice to an issue that hadn’t been raised before. They told the 7-11 committee they were against any proposal that moved special day classes from the Carmel Del Mar campus.

Parent Jennifer Froman said that CDM is the only special education program in the district for students with moderate or severe disabilities. Her child has been able to be mainstreamed since kindergarten and included in every activity from school-wide assemblies to the jog-a-thon.

“Special needs children are the most impacted in the district, they are the last children who should be uprooted from an environment that they know and are successful,” Froman said.

Superintendent Sharon McClain said that the board of trustees would hear the 7-11 committee’s recommendations at a special meeting, most likely in the first two weeks of January.