School bored, school daze, school wars

By Gordon Clanton

North Coastal columnist

Tip O’Neill famously said: “All politics is local.”

School board politics is the most local politics of all. This may explain the intensity, nay, the rancor that often characterizes school board meetings and school board elections. Until recently, the Del Mar Union School District was spared such struggles. But no more.

In 2006, dissident board member Annette Easton recruited Katherine White and Steven McDowell to help her take over the board. The new majority fired the superintendent. Now the board is feuding with the new superintendent they hired.

Full disclosure: I opposed the insurgent slate in 2006, supporting Barbara Myers and Martha Murphy. I was not persuaded that the incumbent board should be turned out, and I found the strident and expensive insurgent campaign off-putting.

I rejoined the fray when I learned that the board was considering closing the Del Mar Hills Academy. I live three blocks from the Hills school. Although I have no children, I consider the school an important part of my community.

My neighbors with children in the Hills school are upset to learn the school may close. They like the fact that their kids can now walk to school without crossing Del Mar Heights Road. They are alarmed that some parents in the district support closing the Hills school as a likely way of preserving their own neighborhood schools.

By the way, I’m suspicious of estimates that purport to show ever-

decreasing enrollments for the Hills school and Del Mar Heights school. What’s happening in my neighborhood is that elderly residents are dying, and young couples with school-age children are purchasing their houses.

So, having sold the Shores school site, the school district needs to find a new home for its administrative offices, thus stirring fears of school closings.

Meanwhile, the Del Mar campaign to pay for the Shores property has come up short, with more than $3.5 million owed.

Nobody asked me, but if the school district were to buy back or lease back the portion of the Shores site it currently occupies, then it would have no need to find a new location. Simultaneously, the debt owed by the city of Del Mar would be substantially reduced. The district could gain flexibility by moving more administrative functions to available space at schools that are under-enrolled.

I hope the board will find a way to keep all the schools open, thus reducing the prevailing anxiety and distrust.

The neighborhood school is part of a social fabric that ought not be casually rent asunder.

Gordon Clanton teaches sociology at San Diego State University. He welcomes comments at