Alpine lawsuit unsuccessful in attempting to block needed upgrades at Valhalla
By Mary Beth Kastan
September 2, 2015 (Rancho San Diego)--Students returning to Valhalla High School in Rancho San Diego will be joined on campus by some unusual guests: construction crews with heavy equipment.
Despite the noise and dust, we’re excited to see a long-awaited campus modernization project finally underway. Thanks to bond funding provided by East County voters through Proposition U, the 49 classrooms in our 155,000-square-foot main building will be fully renovated for the first time since the school opened more than 40 years ago.
Imagine taking 40 years to renovate your home or office? Clearly, this work is needed.
Yet this project almost did not happen. Despite the fact that voters have approved two school-improvement bonds, thousands of Grossmont Union High School District students are attending schools in need of classroom improvements. These students are suffering through long delays due to a baseless lawsuit.
A small group of Alpine residents has sued the district to try to stop it from using bond dollars to upgrade existing high schools. The plaintiffs argue the district should build a new high school in Alpine and ignore the backlog of classroom improvement projects at its 11 existing high schools.
For the district, the issue is simple. Total enrollment is not high enough to justify building a 12th high school in East County, especially when every dollar spent on that new high school is a dollar that can’t be spent on existing schools in desperate need of repairs.
In July, a judge ruled that modernization projects planned at Valhalla and Monte Vista High School could move forward despite Alpine’s attempt to block the improvements. Eleven other school modernization projects remain in limbo. The judge has set a December court date.
That means students at Helix Charter High School, for example, will continue to learn in 60-year-old classrooms where ceiling tiles are falling down. It means that at Granite Hills High School, students will continue to learn in drab, temporary classrooms instead of the state-of-the-art facilities.
While lawyers argue over motions in Downtown courtrooms, students with severe disabilities at West Hills High School will be forced to wait longer for the specialized restroom facilities they need. Students pursuing career technical education at Mount Miguel will have to continue to study in old classrooms instead of the multipurpose spaces that would enhance their education.
Across the district, schools will continue to pay astronomically high electricity bills because they can’t upgrade the outdated, inefficient air conditioning systems that are older than some of our teachers.
At Valhalla, we’re fortunate the judge ruled in our favor. We’ll be able to install LED lighting to cut our energy bills. We’ll be able to improve accessibility for disabled students. And we’ll be able to strengthen the safety features of the building, including fire sprinkler and smoke evacuation systems, in addition to numerous other upgrades.
We know from experience that safe and modern classroom facilities make a significant difference in educational outcomes. After opening a brand new science building with state-of-the-art features at Valhalla in 2010, we immediately saw a marked increase in the level of student interest and engagement in their academic work. More than a third of our graduating seniors now take an additional year of science classes beyond what is required to graduate. That’s exactly the type of student achievement East County voters want and voted for when they supported the school improvement bonds.
Experienced educators know that students rise to the expectations we set for them. When we put students in decrepit classrooms that are long overdue for repairs, it sends the message to students that they are not a priority. By the same token, when we show students that we’re willing to invest in them and their learning environment, we make it clear that they matter and that their education matters.
That’s why voters approved Propositions U and H. All East County high school students — not just those in Alpine or Rancho San Diego or Spring Valley — deserve to learn in safe, modern and state-of-the-art classroom facilities.
Mary Beth Kastan is principal of Valhalla High School.
The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.