San Dieguito High School District’s enrollment study group’s ‘closed’ process challenged by some

The question of whether the San Dieguito Union High School District’s high school enrollment study group meetings should be open to the public came up during the board’s Feb. 5 meeting. A column by Marsha Sutton in this newspaper challenged the legality of the group’s process and sparked concerns among trustees Maureen “Mo” Muir and John Salazar, who said he was “disappointed in the district.”

The high school enrollment study group has been working since November to explore the district’s options after several parents opposed the high school lottery enrollment process at San Dieguito High School Academy and Canyon Crest Academy.

“We need to let parents in every meeting and be upfront and open about everything happening in the district,” Muir said.

Michael Grove, associate superintendent of educational services, said they have heard comments that the district is not being responsive, although the entire process was in response to concerns about the district’s practices and is a way to gather public input.

“Some are unhappy with the way we’re doing it. We’re examining different options and will be seeking public input,” Grove said.

After the recent column by Marsha Sutton questioned the legality of having the meeting closed to the public as well as members of the press, Grove said the district sought legal advice and was told that the meetings do not have to be open because there’s not a quorum of board members, and it’s an ad-hoc, temporary group with no decision-making ability or authority.

“I’ve not had a single person contact the district and ask to attend who wasn’t on the group,” Grove said. “We haven’t been shutting people out, because I haven’t had any requests.”

Grove said he believes the district has been transparent about the process and has selected a complete group of representatives with different viewpoints. All of the work they are doing is posted on the district website with minutes, and members communicate with constituents.

“I don’t feel that there’s been a lack of transparency on our part,” he said.

Grove said a lot of the conversation that takes place in the group is educating them to help understand the issue’s complexity. He said for people to come in and get snippets of information might cause greater confusion in the community and would be counterproductive. He said the purpose of this group is to figure out the “nuts and bolts,” do the work and then present possible options to the public and the board.

Salazar said the group uses a public building to meet, and a “gross amount” of public dollars are being spent for the group’s moderator, so he believes the meetings should be open.

“To have an article written like this is bad for the district,” Salazar said. “I don’t know how we all agreed to lawyer up. I’d like to know what the lawyer said and how much it cost. I’m very curious to see how much money we’re going to waste on this task force.”

Last October, Salazar voted against hiring the group facilitator, Leonard Steinberg, at a rate of $350 an hour. The group, which includes 35 members and eight high school students, has so far met three times.

Sarah Gardner, a parent on the study group, said she has volunteered her time in earnest to do what she can to help the district. Gardner said the column caused a “big uproar” and that if columnist Marsha Sutton were allowed to attend and act as a “watchdog,” the group’s engagement would be curbed.

She said committee members who are committed to making a difference might not speak up because they would worry about how they were being perceived.

“The focus should be placed on how much information we can glean from the process instead of attacking the process,” Gardner said.

Superintendent Rick Schmitt reminded the board that there would be a public meeting at the end of the work group’s process as well as parent surveys. The group’s next meeting will be held at 8 a.m. on Feb. 17 at Earl Warren Middle School. The meeting is open to the public.


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