Parents criticize the 7/11 process; DMUSD committee not given ‘clear direction’

Del Mar Union School District parents expressed frustration last week about the ongoing 7/11 committee process and the criteria being used in the study of surplus space within the district.

“How can we move forward when we keep going in circles?” Del Mar Hills parent Melanie Carmosino asked during last week’s special school board meeting.

The 7/11 committee has been meeting since June, tasked with finding surplus space for both the district office and a preschool even though solid numbers for either have yet to be produced. The board is expected to vote on the exact size of the district office on Sept. 30 and a marketing and business plan for the preschool is slated to come on Dec. 9.

Officials have said that a for-profit preschool may be viable but maybe not for 240 children and maybe only 10 to 14 classrooms are needed just to merge employee child care and special needs program. They need a district office, but space needs are somewhere between 15,000 and 48,000 square feet, according to preliminary estimates.

Parent Heidi Neihart said that the board formed the 7/11 committee prematurely, before all the criteria were approved. As a result, she said hours of time have been wasted by both committee members and parents.

“The board did not take responsibility and do its due diligence,” Neihart said. “Even the murmur of school closure is serious.”

Parent Doug Rafner said it is inexcusable that those murmurs built on incorrect information have created a kind of Hatfield vs. McCoy rift between schools targeted for closure.

“It was careless and irresponsible to send a committee into the public fray without clear direction,” Rafner said.

On Sept. 24, the board heard a presentation on the proposed merge of the employee childcare program currently housed at the Shores and the special education program housed at Sycamore Ridge. The merger would allow interaction between special needs children and their “typical” peers. The for-profit preschool element would provide even more peers.

Holly McClurg, assistant superintendent of instructional services, said that data supports a for-profit preschool as kindergarten enrollment has increased since 2004 and they expect it to continue to grow.

That statement came as surprise to parent Clay Melugin who said declining enrollment has been cited by the 7/11 committee as criteria to close several district schools.

Del Mar Hills parent Vanessa Black said the timing of the for-profit preschool couldn’t be worse. Black had recently been part of a start-up preschool in Cardiff that failed due to a lack of enrollment.

“As much as I love the idea, I’m really, really concerned with the financial health of the district moving forward,” Black said. “Taking risks during this economic crisis is a definite concern to me.”

The employee childcare program, which is licensed to serve 47 children, will be without a home in May 2011, the date that the district needs to move out of the Shores property.

Linda Crawford, who served 12 years on the school board before resigning in 2008, wondered why the $8.5 million from the sale of the Shores property wasn’t going toward purchasing, leasing or building a new district office instead of asking the 7/11 committee to find a home for it in an existing school.

She said in February that a real estate broker gave a report to the board that there were a half dozen properties and 59 buildings where they could re-locate. There was no discussion on the topic at that February meeting, she said, and it hasn’t appeared on agendas since.

‘When and where did you decide not to pursue this option further?” Crawford asked last week.

She said they should follow the lead of the Poway Unified School District which recently took advantage of the buyer’s market and purchased a new 54,000-square-foot office building for $9.9 million.

“It’s troubling that the school district is not capitalizing on this commercial real estate market,” Crawford said. “You’re an all-cash buyer for goodness sakes.”