By Doug Deane
August 8, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) – As you know, I was the Chairperson for the Grossmont Union High School District’s 2011 Boundary Study, and I appeared as a witness before the Grand Jury's Education Committee on 11/14/12. I am disappointed by many aspects of the GUHSD's July 25th response to the Grand Jury's report, and as the Boundary Committee Chair, I believe that I have a responsibility to clarify some misstatements and errors in the GUHSD Response to that report.
In the first paragraph of page 3 of the GUHSD response, the district says, "Opening an additional high school will increase the estimated districtwide operating costs by an initial $1.3M, growing to $1.9M per year. Assuming the new school would attract new students to the district not otherwise already attending other district schools, this cost could be partially offset by additional revenue from these new students. If this were to occur, the net cost increase to the district could potentially be slightly less than $1M per year."
I'd like your readers to know that this argument by the GUHSD is made with the benefit of a number of inaccuracies, misstatements, and a questionable cost analysis:
The analysis of additional operating costs was undertaken by Deputy Superintendent Scott Patterson and his staff, and it was done without transparency. The Deputy Superintendent has been asked to produce the details for that analysis, and he reluctantly produced a top level breakdown of those costs, showing that they were generated using overconservative assumptions and neglecting real-world cost benefits that would be realized as the new high school came online. For instance, the activation of the high school would cause middle school students to be diverted from both Steele Canyon and Granite Hills High Schools. The Granite Hills students would cause a significant decrease in the attendance of Granite Hills (likely around 400 students in year 3 of a ramp-up of an 800 student high school in Alpine), and this is where the overconservatism comes in. Patterson makes the claim that additional district operating costs are $1.3M-$1.9M per year, but that doesn't taken into account the fact that operating costs DECREASE at Granite Hills, because less staff are needed for less students, assuming the student-to-teacher ratio stays the same at that school. Patterson's analysis ignores that fact, and although there ARE additional operating costs incurred by the district in the form of maintenance and administrative staff, the overall district increase is likely nowhere near the range that Patterson has suggested. Very simply, his analysis has not recognized that there are lower operating costs at Granite Hills caused by fewer Alpine area students attending. When asked about this in the past, Patterson has replied that any savings would be "negligible" which is not supported by the facts, unless the GUHSD grossly mismanages the transition.
The statement that “the net cost increase could potentially be slightly less than $1M per year" is dramatically over-conservative. I would characterize it as disingenuous. The Student Recovery Report dated June 21, 2011, was prepared by the paid demographer for the GUHSD, Mr. Vince O'Hara. Mr. O'Hara was selected by the district because of his competence in this area, and his demographic expertise was well-known to the GUHSD because he served as the district's paid demographer for the 2001 boundary study done in anticipation of the building of Steele Canyon High School. The GUHSD has chosen to marginalize his work on the Student Recovery Report because his work is at odds with the board's decision not to build the new high school. In short, the Student Recovery Report shows that an additional 260-480 students will be added to the district over four years. These students are recovered from schools outside the district, and they will therefore produce windfall revenues for the GUHSD. Using the current annual state revenue per student of $6,021, the recovered students produce windfall revenues in the range of $1.565M to $2.89M. Subtracting these numbers from the questionable $1.3M to $1.9M range that Patterson has posited, it is easy to see that the "net cost increase to the district" is not "slightly less than $1M per year". It is, instead, AT MOST $335K per year, using the most conservative recovery estimate, and the low end of Patterson's questionable range of additional operating costs. The only possible response by the GUHSD to this serious discrepancy is that they don't believe the work of their own paid demographer, Mr. Vince O'Hara. I found Mr. O'Hara to be a thoughtful, meticulous and knowledgeable district-provided resource and I have no reason to doubt the credibility and accuracy of his work.
In the section entitled “FIELD OF DREAMS – ‘BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME’" on page 4, it is disappointing to me that the Grand Jury did not note the existence of the Student Recovery Report or assess the impact of the district's actions in light of the report's findings. It is also obvious to me from the district's response that they appreciate that fact. Rightly so, because the Student Recovery Report shoots large holes in the district's position concerning the cost of the new high school. The Student Recovery Report was part of the final report of the Boundary Committee's findings, though the district made every attempt to marginalize it, likely because it did not support their intended course of inaction. As I've already mentioned, it was researched and authored by the district's paid demographer, and I have no reason to doubt its veracity. When the district's response is viewed through the lens of this Student Recovery Report, it becomes apparent that the district believes that it is entitled to its own set of facts, which differ wildly from that of the expert's.
In paragraph 5 on page 9 of the GUHSD Response, it says, "Estimated operating costs for the Alpine high school are $1.3M."
This statement was made by Karen Fleck, President of the Foothills Secondary Council of PTAs, and a well-respected member of the East County community. Her citation of this information is held up as proof by the GUHSD that influential community members are "aligned with those of the CBOC and this Board." These numbers are not accurate at all, and the fact that they are being cited by well-respected members of our education infrastructure shows how effectively and how deeply the disinformation campaign, executed by the district, has permeated our education community. The district's strategy has been to pit neighborhoods against each other by characterizing the use of bond funds as a zero sum game. They would like district residents to believe that if Alpine prevails in having a high school built, that other communities must lose because they will lose the use of bond funds that were earmarked for Alpine.
In the last paragraph on page 16 of the GUHSD Response, it says, "The financial commitment for the ongoing maintenance and operation of an additional high school is significant."
Actually, it's not, based on the district's own Student Recovery Report. Using the average estimated cost (the credibility of those calculations by the district are in dispute) of the new high school ($1.6M) and the average for the range of students recovered by the district (370 students), the new school would have produced additional windfall revenues of $627K to the district, over and above its annual operating and maintenance costs!
Similarly, on page 17, in bullets 5 and 6, it says, "That would require a permanent annual increase in our net fixed costs of approximately $1.0M."
I believe that I've shown this to be disinformation, concocted by the GUHSD Board to justify the district's inaction.
In summary, like the Grand Jury, I believe that the district has acted in bad faith, and that the Grand Jury's findings are materially correct. I am not knowledgeable enough with many areas of the report to be able to provide credible commentary on those aspects (such as bond funding or financing), so I'll leave that to others in the East County community. What I can tell your readers without fear of credible contradiction is that windfall revenues generated by the new high school, whose existence is predicted by the district's own demographer, would have largely or completely negated any additional operating and maintenance costs, and there's actually a case to be made that the new school would have generated revenues substantially in excess of its annual costs.
I applaud the Grand Jury for its hard work on this issue, and I mourn the loss of what would have been a sparkling jewel of a high school in the East County. It was lost through petty and divisive politics in the GUHSD boardroom, and by inept management of bond funds by the district. It is likely gone forever.
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