San Dieguito's costly missteps lead to more questions, including does competency exist in the SD
The nearly $1 million portables for the transition program for disabled students were designed between 2015 and 2017, but not purchased until May 2017. The question remains how could the district not be aware of how many adults would be using the portables even though the program was starting only 3 months later.
The initial cost of the actual portables was approximately $450,000, although another $33,000 was approved to put in more windows. Additional expenditures for irrigation, the foundation, plumbing, architectural designs, plantings, transformer and electrical brought the overall project closer to $1 million.
The location where the portables were placed was originally supposed to house the beautiful Prop AA funded high ceilinged classrooms for the Earl Warren Middle School students, but those state-of-the art classrooms would no longer fit in the designated space after an emergency road was put onsite. So, the district decided to purchase portables to cram the disabled adults on the site instead, per information shared at the public forum held in August.
The disabled transition students have been segregated in portables for years but no one seemed to care. Even though Prop AA was passed to replace portables (also known as “modulars”) for other students on other campuses, the disabled program was inexplicably excluded from Prop AA discussions, master planning and funding. Instead of the facility for the disabled students getting the new 20’ ceiling expansive state-of-the-art classrooms like those provided to the middle school campus only yards away, the segregated disabled students were simply going to get new portables.
Mark Miller, the associate superintendent who former superintendent Schmitt hired in July 2016 to be in charge of improving special education, has stated publicly that he was unaware of the nearly $1 million facility project. That brings another question to mind. What kind of administrator does not know that this type of project is going on in his own department? That has to at least earn a head scratch by observers.
When the press questioned him about his thoughts regarding the use of segregated portables for the disabled students, he simply stated that it is “not uncommon to have special education classrooms in modular buildings.” “Education Matters: San Dieguito’s watershed moment,” by Marsha Sutton, Del Mar Times (8/15/17). So that makes it okay? Even though other students in portables are getting new buildings? And, isn’t that the point -- that students with special needs are commonly stuck in portables? If there’s an award for sensitivity, he will not be earning it this year.
Watchdog has yet to see any documents that reveal what kind of process was used to examine the number of persons who would be ultimately using the facility. The superintendent stated at the August public forum that district staff had underestimated the number of adults who would be housed in the proposed portables, but the special education programs or “tracks” which feed into the 4-year transition program do not change significantly over the years so the number of students staying and moving to the program should have been ascertained with very little effort. One has to wonder who did the estimating or whether it was done at all before the portables were purchased.
And what about those locking “calming” rooms? Another problem with the two portables were that each contained small locking rooms, which per the design plans submitted to the state’s architects, were to be used as a “calming” or sensory rooms. Parents, and the DRC, raised concerns that locking calming rooms, again without any windows, were not legal. Per emails shared per document requests, the staff had specifically requested that the calming room have no windows. Locking, windowless calming rooms are only allowed in the State of California if the agency using them have a specific license to have them. Our district had no such license. Per the plans submitted to the state, and emails between the staff, the district’s spec ed team specifically identify the rooms seen with the locks during the community walk-through as the rooms designated as the calming/sensory rooms.
The LCC location was decided as a temporary solution because LCC is currently around 1,000 students under capacity. The LCC location has been met with mixed reviews because it is situated in the most northern part of the district, requiring students from the Torrey Pines area to be bussed for extended periods of time to get to LCC. The location also further removes students living in the southern part of the district from their natural community, where the students ideally should be developing work relationships and community experiences to transition to once they turn age 22.
For students who were already in the transition program at the former site, some of their work experience links have been disrupted. And, for students with physical disabilities, the LCC area itself presents some challenges because it has hills and the transition site is further from community amenities than the one where the portables were located.
Parents have reported that they are frequently reminded how hard the staff worked to get the rooms ready almost suggesting that the move was their fault. But let us remember why the move had to be done in the first place -- the district messed up and created an expensive facility that was too small and ill equipped for the disabled students who were going to be using it! So, thank you staff, but no thanks to you district administrators.
The transition students now at LCC are prohibited from participating in any of the LCC amenities, such as getting food from the cafeteria, even though their classrooms are situated only a few yards away. The small courtyard where the classroom for the most impacted “functional living skills” students is located has no shade and is in need of improvements to make the courtyard more usable and student friendly. The LCC functional living skills students also had to give up one of its rooms to the transition program disrupting their existing program.
WHERE IS THE COMPETENCY?
What about Prop AA? This September, the Board held a Prop AA workshop but the presentation failed to include any reference to plans for a new transition facility for the disabled students, which may now be needed, given that the portables built this past spring were too small and not useable for the transition program. It remains unclear why the district never included the transition facility as a Prop AA project in the first place, and given the recent turn of events, even more surprising that the transition facility has not been slated for a design proposal so that it can ultimately be added to the Prop AA master project list if needed.
What about how we prioritize projects? We must also remember that instead of prioritizing the building of classrooms for the transition program and other students, the district instead recently spent around $11 million to build off-site athletic fields on a 22 acre parcel near La Costa Valley. The $11 million fields took priority over new classrooms for Sunset High School (currently using portables although slated to be replaced at some point under Prop AA) as well as new classrooms for the transition program.
Are these fields generating revenue for the District to put back into facilities? The Presentation at the September 2017 Facilities Planning meeting shows a number of athletic field improvements being planned at LCC, CCA and TP with both CFDs and Prop AA Funds.
TPHS Varsity Baseball Fields need more upgrades?
According the the presentation, CFDs may be used for additional upgrades to the TPHS Varsity Baseball Fields. Why? To date, the program has still failed to demonstrate where it spends all the booster dollars, which are suppose to go to the program. Booster dollars in the range of at least $85,000 per year, but according to Foundation 990s is upwards of $120,000 per year.
And what about those off-site $11 million Prop AA funded athletic fields in the La Costa Valley area? Per recent board meetings, the district plans to turn the $11 million fields over to the City of Carlsbad because the district built the fields without having a maintenance plan in place. Most of Carlsbad’s taxpayers do not pay the taxes funding Prop AA because most of Carlsbad residents live outside of the district’s boundaries. Most Carlsbad residents instead pay taxes to support the City of Carlsbad and its own school district, Carlsbad Unified. Per the bond language of Prop AA, the funds raised through the bond are intended to fund the building of facilities for our schools. Instead, it appears Prop AA funds were used to build fields that will be turned over to the City of Carlsbad. Encinitas soccer and other organizations have urged the district to work with an “in-district” nonprofit, arguing that Prop AA funds were not intended to build what amounts to be a Carlsbad park. Unfortunately, at least if the fields were operated by City of Carlsbad, there would be transparency and equitable use of the facilities. Our "in-district" nonprofit(s) have not proved they can be transparent in where their funds truly go, so the District may still lose out whichever way it goes.
For many observers, they cannot help but scratch their head and wonder what is going on with this district.
Why was $11 million of taxpayer funds that was supposed to be used for the upgrading of school facilities spent on off-site fields that will be turned over to the City of Carlsbad instead of building badly needed classrooms.
Why was close to $1 million approved and spent on a segregated, discriminatory facility for disabled students that failed to meet the capacity and other needs of those students as well as likely violated federal and state laws?
Why does our board keep people on the payroll who make such poor decisions?
We have a good district. Unfortunately, it is also getting a reputation for being great at ignoring questions and creating unnecessary problems, which is moving the wrong direction on the spectrum of success.