By Jake Christie
ECM editor Miriam Raftery also contributed to this story
February 20, 2012 (San Diego’s East County)--In a four-to-one vote, the Grossmont Union High School District Governing Board this week decided to not adopt a resolution to resubmit building plans for a 12th high school in Alpine. There was no public input from the small audience, and the item was not discussed until about an hour and 30 minutes into the meeting. The Board members voted 4-1 to defeat the motion, with only Jim Stieringer voting in favor of his resolution.
“I think everybody on the board and everybody in the audience knows I’m 100 percent in favor of constructing the so-called ‘12th high school’ which would be for the community of Alpine,” said Stieringer, the newly elected board member. “I would say regardless of the outcome of this vote, in my opinion, a 12th high school will be built. It may not be built this year, it may not be built in 2014 or in 2016, but the funds are available…..my feeling is that this board should not be spending $65 million building a high school for a unified Alpine elementary,” Stieringer added.
Unification of the Alpine Elementary School District is something the GUHSD governing board claims it is not opposed to; it would allow the Alpine district (currently elementary through middle school) to form a high school. Grossmont’s opposition lies in building a campus which would then be yanked away if the Alpine district were to unify.
Board member Priscilla Schreiber has long been a supporter of the Alpine High School. In a letter to the editor at Patch.com, she explained her reasons for voting against the resolution. “Unfortunately, the resolution was merely a conditional resolution and not a path to construction,” she said.
Schreiber objected to the resolution being conditional on the Alpine community abandoning its unification efforts, while not providing any assurances that a new high school would ever be built.
She faulted the Superintendent for previously pulling design plans from the Division of the State Architect without board approval, after the board had in fact voted 5-0 to submit those plans. “The question everyone needs to ask is why did they pull those plans back from DSA before there was even a rumor of Alpine wanting to unify?” Schreiber told ECM.
Had the Stieringer resolution passed and the plans been resubmitted, approval would take another six to nine months, after which the board’s plan was to “let them sit on the shelf for three years and then request another year extension before any consideration to award construction contracts,” Schreiber stated in her Patch commentary. She added that the resolution “inferred an attempt to hold Alpine hostage under another veiled promise to build the school.”
A Grand Jury investigation has reportedly been looking into allegations that the board majority misallocated bond monies from Propositions H and U, which both listed the Alpine High School. Other construction projects, including some not mandated by the bond measures passed by voters, were built instead.
According to Stierenger, the district is sitting on something like $6 million of bond measure money, $4.7 million of which would be used to design and construct the Alpine high school.
But Schreiber told ECM, “There is no money to build that school. They never set aside $65 million in an escrow account, which is fraudulent, I believe, to the community of Alpine.”
GUHSD governing board Vice President Dick Hoy felt that the board “was not doing right for Alpine or for us,” regarding the Alpine high school, noting that as it stood, any school built would serve only 500 to 600 students instead of the 800 required by the bond, though Hoy claimed the governing board didn’t know what the student population of Alpine would be in two or three year’s time.
Asked if he might reintroduced a revised resolution to address fellow board members' concerns, Stieringer told ECM in an e-mail, "I have no immediate plans to resubmit the resolution regarding the proposed Alpine High School. The defeat of my resolution is simply democracy in action...hose who voted against the resolution seemed to do so in a firm and sincere belief that the demographics and economics of the proposed school do not warrant their vote at this time. It is up to me and the people of Alpine to convince them otherwise."
I remain a strong proponent of the 12th high school, but for now it looks like we may have to wait until minds are changed," he added. "Clearly I have some work to do for my Alpine constituents."
He praised the board for "positive actions" such as expending $15 million to acquire land and setting back $40 million for eventual construction, but meanwhile Alpine students are commuting 20 miles round trip to school. "Be assured that I haven't given up. I remind your readers that in 1992 as a new board member I was consistently outvoted 4 to 1 by my Grossmont Hospital District colleagues when I proposed that the district take control of the hospital's property tax revenue," he wrote. "In just three years I achieved a board majority of 3 to 2 that won a $5 million dollar lawsuit against Sharp HealthCare, the proceeds of which built the district's healthcare library and conference center at Briarcrest Park. I'm now 71 years old, but I still remember how to win a political argument."
During the lengthy meeting, the board also shot down efforts to rotate positions including Board President; a move sought by Schreiber, and held discussions over a proposal backed by Jim Kelly to restrict the number of times that Board members could speak on items in public meetings.
It was a confused evening; they began by honoring “payroll technician” Jan Hooper and student Michael Adkins (Helix Charter High School), who is the district’s “All-Academic Team Captain for San Diego County in Football”, i.e., he has a great grade-point average and he’s good in sports as well. They were supposed to honor Emily Lopez (Monte Vista HS’s cross country “All-Academic Team Captain”) but she was at a meet and did not show up until 40 minutes later; whereupon board President Kelly stopped business to give her an award, and as with the two other people, pose for photographs.
“The best part of being on the board is giving awards to students and staff,” said Kelly.
Besides awards, the board was also witness to a multimedia presentation from Monte Vista High School where students sang lyrics about the school set to music from a Ke$ha song; the lyrics told how the high school was preparing students for lives in the nursing and hotel management fields. One teacher on video said “Don’t teach what you want to, teach what you have to” regarding the standardized testing system.