Del Mar Heights parents urge school district to consider district-wide solution for many facilities needs

The Del Mar Union School District held a series of public forums recently to gather feedback on how the community would like the district to move forward on its facilities needs. Forums were held at the three campuses most in need of improvements: Del Mar Heights, Del Mar Hills and Carmel Del Mar.

Superintendent Holly McClurg said they hope to give the board direction on how community members want them to address the $133 million of improvement projects identified in the 2014 facilities master plan and whether they should consider placing a bond on the 2016 ballot to meet their funding shortfall.

“We really want authentic voices from the community that will inform the board’s next steps,” McClurg said.

The district’s top three priorities are modernization, technology infrastructure and converting portable classrooms to permanent buildings. The most work is needed at the three oldest campuses: $24 million at Del Mar Heights and $22 million at Del Mar Hills and Carmel Del Mar.

Converting portables to permanent campus buildings is a major focus of the facilities needs. There are 13 portables at Del Mar Heights and they are reaching 15 to 25 years old.

“We’re lucky we have a really good crew that maintains them, but really our portables have run the end of life and we’re at the time where we really need to consider creating permanent buildings for those classrooms,” said Jason Romero, assistant superintendent.

To illustrate the point, the school’s plant manager came in to inform Principal Wendy Wardlow in the middle of the forum that there was a rat infestation in one of the portables and they had to evacuate children out of their classroom.

Board member Erica Halpern attended the sessions at Del Mar Hills and Del Mar Heights and noted she was glad to get the parents’ input. Her child is in one of the rat-infested portables with a classroom that will now be displaced for weeks and said that it was really hammered home that this is a district priority: “The portables are well-past their useful life.”

“Mr. Smith (second grade teacher Andrew Smith) deserves a lot of credit for managing the class through such a big disruption and the facilities staff has been very diligent with the remediation and repair process,” Halpern said.

The 2014 facility master plan’s scope of work includes modernization, technology infrastructure, collaboration space, transforming libraries into innovation centers, front office improvements, professional learning centers, parent workrooms, covered play and dining, and improved parking lot circulation.

“Parking is an issue at all schools but at Del Mar Heights, parking is at a premium,” McClurg said.

Wardlow said there are 48 spots (with four auctioned off) and 60 staff members. With limited street parking and the school located at the end of a cul-de-sac, McClurg said Heights is the district’s most challenging ingress and egress situation.

Wardlow said covered dining is a real problem at their campus, as they don’t have an area that is flat enough to have a covered eating space with real lunch tables. Currently students eat lunches on the benches.

In light of the El Nino year, Wardlow said the school is already concerned about what they will do if the weather doesn’t cooperate for their annual Winterfest celebration, which is held outside. Wardlow said “if allowed to dream,” she would love a larger multi-use room (MUR), as the one they have on campus isn’t big enough to hold one class let alone a whole school performance.

“This school, if you think about it, wasn’t really finished,” said McClurg, noting it was built in 1959 during a very different time.

At Del Mar Hills, parents spoke about the need for field improvements, which was not included in the facilities master plan but could be addressed with a bond program.

Options to address the funding shortfall include a district-wide general obligation (GO) bond and a school facilities improvement district (SFID) that identifies a specific area where only those voters within the SFID would vote and be assessed taxes. Projects funded by the SFID must be located within its boundaries.

Parents at Del Mar Heights weren’t sure about the fairness of an SFID around the most needy schools of Hills and Heights.

“It’s like saying ‘You can carve yourself out and you can pay for it,’” the parent said. “The SFID model flies in the face of the district-wide drumbeat of parity…a district- wide bond feels more robust for the future facilities needs. I think that’s healthier and more consistent with the notion of parity.”

In 10 years, the other schools may be just in need of improvements and having more funds available district-wide would be helpful, parents said. They also voiced concerns that if there was a district-wide GO bond that the priority funding would go to the schools most in need.

DMUSD last went out for a bond in 2012 with Prop CC, a $76.8 million bond that would cost property owners $8.44 per $100,000 of assessed property value or about $65 for the average homeowner. Prop CC received 53.74 percent of the required 55 percent to pass.

Looking ahead at another possible bond effort, McClurg said “quite honestly” she doesn’t know what the community desires and whether a GO bond or SFID would be more likely to pass—making public input and education all the more important.

“Four years ago we lost by about 100 votes. There were a lot of different variables and we’re at a different place now,” Romero said. “We want to get the flavor and sentiment of what the school communities feel so the board can make an informed decision.”

“There is a lot of energy around making sure our schools are of the highest caliber,” McClurg said, noting how important high quality schools are to the entire community, not just for people with students in the district.

The district welcomes more input at