By Miriam Raftery
October 25, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – Numerous claims and accusations have been flying among candidates running for the Grossmont Union High School District, where the Board majority is reportedly the target of an ongoing Grand Jury investigation over allocation of bond funds. Which candidates’ claims are true and which are not substantiated by the facts? Scroll down to read the findings of our hard-working team of fact-checkers.
Claim: “A number of us realized we couldn’t go forward, especially when we realized the trigger of 23, 245 students would not be met in the foreseeable future,” he explained. “It’s not that we don’t want to build a school. It’s that, as trustees, we are legally prohibited from it based on the language of Prop U.” – Gary Woods in an interview with ECM, explaining why he now opposes building a high school in Alpine. He repeated the trigger claim in the candidate forum Monday.
Facts: While early on there were legitimate questions on whether the enrollment trigger would be met, Woods failed to mention that the GUHSD Superintendent ultimately confirmed that the trigger WAS met. “The official enrollment came in for the 2010/11 school year at two above the trigger number—making it three consecutive years it was satisfied,” Sal Casamassima, Chair of the Alpine High School Citizens Committee told ECM. An Alpine Sun article back on July 22, 2010 was headlined GUHSD reaches enrollment trigger for Alpine High School. But after the Board authorized final steps to acquire the site and proceed with architectural filings and grading, the Board majority including Woods created a "brand new trigger, nowhere to be found in the bond language, and passed a resolution that state funding levels would have to be restored to 2008 levels in order for the school to be built. So what Woods said about the enrollment trigger was bogus,” Casamassima added in an e-mail to ECM. Moreover, a chart prepared by GUHSD demographer Vince O’Hara shows a substantial increase in enrollment projected after next year.
Woods’ logic also fails to take into account the large LOSS of enrollment that failing to build the Alpine High School is likely to result in, since Alpine parents, fed up with twice voting for bonds that explicitly listed the Alpine High School as a top priority, are now seeking a “divorce” from the GUHSD and unification of the Alpine Union School District to expand beyond elementary and middle school. If that occurs, and the AUSD builds a new high school, the GUHSD would lose ADA revenues from hundreds or more students likely to leave the district entirely.
Claim: Gary Woods has claimed to be an advocate of modernizing high schools and bringing technology into the classrooms. He stated that he views modernization of the District’s campuses and “phenomenal” and further proclaimed that on his watch, the Grossmont district is “embracing technologies and using it in every classroom…Other districts are coming to us to learn about technology.” - Gary Woods, in an interview with ECM
Facts: Woods holds a doctoral degree in technology. While he may be enthused about the impacts of technology and modernization at GUHSD schools, he in fact opposed both Prop H and Prop U, which provided funding for the modernization of campuses and technology, as ECM reported based on candidate forums at the time.
Claim: “Shouldn’t there be $75 million to build the high school as budgeted? There was a long-range master plan in 2003; this was the single largest budget item in Prop H.”—Bill Weaver, in comments made at the candidate forum and in an interview with ECM.
Facts: It is true that the 2003 Long Range Master Plan prioritized building the new Alpine high school as a “must-do” project and estimated slightly over $71 million as the cost, the largest item budgeted.
Claim: Weaver also repeatedly said that the Board majority “ignored recommendations of its own Boundary Committee” by opting to redraw district lines that excluded a new high school in Alpine.”
Facts: The Boundary committee’s final report concluded that district enrollment would increase substantially if the Alpine High School was built. “With the addition of HS12, district enrollment…surpasses current enrollment by almost 200 students in 2015/16,” helping the district to recover lost Average Daily Attendance (ADA) money, the report found.
Doug Deane, who chaired the GUHSD Boundary Committee, confirmed that its findings were ignored by the Board majority. “The Grand Jury investigation into the use of bond money by the GUHSD does not surprise me,” Deane, who is also past co-chair of the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, said in an interview with ECM. He called the GUHSD Board “at the very least irresponsible, and at worst negligent, in their use of Prop. U bond money.”
Claim: The district has a 77% graduation rate, but it should be a lot better.” – Jim Stieringer, in an interview with ECM
Facts: The graduation rate district-wide for the 2010-2011 school year was 77.5%. That’s up slightly from the prior year, at 76.7% according to the California Department of Education’s Cohort Rates data. While it’s good that there was improvement, there’s plenty of room for more. By contrast, San Diego Unified High School District has an 83.7% graduation rate, KPBS recently reported.
Claim: “As a member of the Healthcare district, I defended the interests of residents by challenging the sweetheart lease of Grossmont Hospital to Sharp Healthcare. I initiated the lawsuit that resulted in a $5 million settlement with Sharp.”—Jim Stieringer, in an ECM interview
Facts: Stieringer was on the Grossmont Healthcare District board when it filed a lawsuit against Sharp Healthcare over a lease dispute involving Grossmont Hospital. After the suit was filed, Stieringer stated, “The reason we filed this lawsuit was because we believed the facts surrounding the initial lease negotiation suggested that the public interest was not served in that there were demonstrable conflicts of interest,” the Daily Transcript reported in 2000. The Union-Tribune reported that in 2001, Sharp agreed to pay a $5 million settlement to the Healthcare district.
Claim: “Enrollment at [the District’s] charter schools is up…They have to turn people away.”—Barbara Stevens, in an interview with ECM
Facts: This is true. In April 2011, Patch.com reported that Helix Charter High School held an “enrollment lottery night.” The District’s other charter high school, Steele Canyon, describes a lottery admission process on its website.
Claim: “Sacramento always finds a way to take the money. We somehow have a bullet train…but we don’t have education funding.” – Barbara Stevens, during candidate forum, on why she opposes Propositions 30 and 38
Facts: The $4.7 billion authorized by the Legislature for the bullet train is actually funded through a rail bond measure approved by voters specifically for the bullet train, not from the General Fund, according to the Wall Street Journal. The bullet train is also paid for by $3.2 billion in matching federal funds.
As for whether Prop 30 funds could be diverted to other purposes, the actual text of the measure states, there are some assurances of accountability: “The new tax revenue is guaranteed in the California Constitution to go directly to local school districts and community colleges. Cities and counties are guaranteed ongoing funding for public safety programs such as local police and child protective services. State money is freed up to help balance the budget and prevent even more devastating cuts to services for seniors, working families, and small businesses….To ensure these funds go where the voters intend, they are put in special accounts that the Legislature cannot touch. None of these new revenues can be spent on state bureaucracy or administrative costs… These funds will be subject to an independent audit every year to ensure they are spent only for schools and public safety. Elected officials will be subject to prosecution and criminal penalties if they misuse the funds.” The measure also raises Prop 98 mandated levels for education funding.
Claim: “Our bond was only supposed to be used to improve facilities with 16,000 square foot multi-purpose facilities. But our staff inflated that into these performing art centers with 35,000 square feet,” Schreiber told ECM in an interview. Only the performing arts centers at Helix was built. “The board never approved these PACs. It’s a waste of taxpayer’s money. We're doing things that weren't in Prop H or Prop U.” – Priscilla Schreiber, in an interview with ECM.
Facts: Schreiber, who worked to stop construction of other performing arts centers, is correct that that performing arts centers were never listed in Prop H or U. The original Prop H bond language stated funds should be used to “renovate outdated classrooms, science labs, and school facilities, improve buildings and grounds for safety, and construct a new high school.” The new high school was estimated to cost $73,000. A Facilities Master Plan Breakdown prioritized projects into “Must do” and “should do” items that included the new high school, as well as “want to do” items. Despite this, projects such as an large swimming pools, football fields and a performing arts center have been built. The Board majority, in opting for such projects and refusing to build the new high school, ignored the 2007 recommendations of its own Bond Advisory Commission.
Claim: “I think the Superintendent’s base pay is $105,000, plus perks.” – Priscilla Schreiber, during candidate forum
Facts: Schreiber contacted us after the debate to advise that her memory erred, in fact the 2010 contract indicated the Superintendent’s salary was $220,000 annual salary for 225 days, which worked out to $217,066.67 given the furlough days. The District has not responded to our inquiry requesting confirmation, however the Sacramento Bee listed a slightly lower figure for 2011. In any case the Superintendent's salary is substantially higher than the statewide average of $159,000, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Claim: “El Cajon Valley had the lowest number of AP classes and the lowest number of students in them…Cajon Valley High has among the lowest test scores in our region.” Noting the high number of immigrants including Iraqis, he also cited a need for a “Focus on ESL classes” noting that “if the standardized test is in English and they can’t read it, that’s not fair.” – Zach Miller, in an interview with ECM
Facts: In 2008, when Miller was a student, El Cajon Valley had 7 AP classes, ranking next to last in the district, with just 2.9% participation. The percent of students taking them was 12.3%, the lowest in the district. That improved by 2010-11, when the school had 14 AP classes, but the percent of students taking them had dropped to just 8.4%.
It’s true that Cajon Valley’s student population is 55.5% minorities including 43.8% who are English learners, according to the school’s Accountability Report. In 2010 the Union-Tribune reported that the El Cajon area had 35,000 Iraqi Catholics. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards on standardized testing in 2010-11 ranged from 48% to 57% depending on subject. Among English learners, only 15% met or exceeded the state standards.
Claim: “Class sizes are between 30 and 40.” – Zach Miller, in an ECM interview
Facts: Average class size at El Cajon Valley High School, where Miller attended, is currently 25, according to the School Accountability Report Card though that’s improved since Miller was a student there. In 2008-2009, science classes averaged 40 students and social studies courses 35, with only English classes below 30 (28.5) according to a more detailed School Accountability Report on the GUHSD website.