By Miriam Raftery
June 11, 2015 (Alpine) – Alpine residents seeking to force the Grossmont Union High School District to turn over $70 million in bond funds and land acquired for construction of an Alpine High School will finally have their day in court. Judge Joel Pressman ruled against Grossmont on Friday, refusing to dismiss the case and requiring that the money be set aside pending outcome of the trial.
The proceeding will be an administrative trial before Judge Pressman set for December 4th with the Alpine Union School District and the Alpine Taxpayers for Bond Accountability squaring off against the GUHSD. A 3-judge appellate court panel previously denied Grossmont’s request for a stay to stop the proceedings, a move affirmed Friday by Pressman. The County Grand Jury also found that the district did not live up to its obligation to Alpine taxpayers and recommended that the district build the high school or turn over the money to the Alpine Union High School District to build the school. The district's board majority defied the Grand Jury and did neither.
The plaintiffs contend that Grossmont misallocated millions of dollars from Propositions U and H, spending much of the $700 million measures approved by voters for projects not listed in the bond while refusing to build the Alpine High School that was a priority project in the bond measures.
Grossmont has claimed the enrollment trigger was never met, but other district insiders insist that the trigger has been met repeatedly.
Parents fed up with Grossmont’s stalling after 20 years of trying to get a high school built in Alpine have convinced the County Board of Education to recommend approval of a unification petition. If approved by the state, that would allow Alpine households to divorce from the Grossmont District and unify or with the Alpine Union School District, which currently serves only elementary and middle school children. The AUSD would then build the high school with bond money that the Judge has forced Grossmont to set aside.
Grossmont Superintendent Ralf Swenson told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he believes the judge will ultimately rule in Grossmont’s favor. “We are confident that once he sees the evidence, he will rule in favor of Grossmont.”
Judge Pressman rejected Grossmont’s arguments that it did not have a contract commitment with Alpine to build a high school and that the text of Prop U did not compel the district to build the long-promised school.
Grossmont’s Superintendent has sought to blame Alpine plaintiffs for delaying bond projects at other schools. Meanwhile the district is moving forward with $68 million in Prop U bond sales.
“As with Judge Pressman’s observations when issuing the spending injunction against Grossmont, Grossmont has adequate cash to pay for an Alpine high school without adversely impacting other bond projects already committed,” George Barnett, a plaintiff, wrote in a piece published in the Alpine Community Network.
Barnett calls Friday’s ruling by Judge Pressman a big win that he believes is “extremely powerful,” moving Alpine closer to parents’ goal of “a school run by our own local school district and serving our children’s needs directly, and under our local control.”
If the judge rules in December that the money and land must be turned over to the AUSD, parents still face a final hurdle. The State Board of Education must approve the unification petition, after which a local election must be held for Alpine voters to make the ultimate decision.