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Solana Beach district will not pursue eighth school in Pacific Highlands Ranch

At its Oct. 11 meeting, the Solana Beach School District board gave direction to staff to pursue an expansion of Solana Ranch Elementary School or utilizing existing facilities to handle the influx of students coming from accelerated home-building in Pacific Highlands Ranch rather than purchase the 10-acre site on Golden Cypress Place to build school #8. The board is expected to take action on its next step at its Nov. 8 board meeting.

SBSD President Debra Schade said it was unfortunate that the board is having to make this decision now, with 515 homes on the way between 2019 and 2023. when the district had been anticipating the bulk of build-out to occur between 2027 and 30. The accelerated timeline has 125 new homes coming into the district during the 2018-19 school year, 290 in 2019-20 and 174 in 2020-21. There is not room at Solana Ranch to house all of the incoming students—the school currently has 572 students and the district recently added four modular classrooms to the campus to help handle the increased enrollment.

“The board is committed to doing what’s right for kids first,” Schade said. “We are very focused on fiscal responsibility and transparency.”

With community facilities district (Mello Roos) funds and bond proceeds, the district has about $40 million available to address the Pacific Highlands Ranch community.

The district’s pro-forma site acquisition cost with Pardee Homes is $6.8 million and the projected cost to build a small school is about $48.5 million, leaving the district with a $15 million shortfall at this point. A small school of about 350 students would cost an additional $1.3 million a year to run, not including teacher and staff costs.

“As much as I would love to have school #8, it’s not feasible in today’s world,” said trustee Richard Leib. “I want to see the community together rather than disperse everybody into existing schools.”

To “right-size” Solana Ranch would cost an estimated $10 million. The expanded Solana Ranch would include an additional two-story classroom building and possibly a larger multi-use room. The board will also consider using its existing schools to accommodate growth which would require site improvements such as $4.4 million to lease portables for Solana Santa Fe School in Rancho Santa Fe and two new modular classroom buildings at Solana Pacific at a cost of $880,589.

The district is also exploring converting the K-3 Solana Highlands to a K-6 school to help families avoid Del Mar Heights traffic as well as assigning students from the 608 units in One Paseo to K-3 Carmel Creek or 4-6 Solana Pacific, rather than Solana Highlands.

During public comment, Jimmy Ayala, division president of Pardee Homes San Diego, said as the master planned developer of Pacific Highlands Ranch, Pardee Homes is in favor of options that do not force local families to send children outside the community and endure longer commutes. He said it has always been Pardee Homes’ belief that the best way to accommodate growth is through the purchase of the school site and the construction of a new school, however, they recognize the district’s budgetary constraints.

“Pardee Homes takes great pride in designing livable and walkable communities that allow families to engage with their neighbors. Plans that would split the Pacific Highlands Ranch community and force families and neighbors to send their children to different schools are not ideal,” Ayala said. “As a master plan developer, Pardee Homes believes it’s important for the district to identify a solution that would continue to enhance the community as it was originally planned and utilize its available funds to keep students within Pacific Highlands Ranch schools and their families’ core villages intact.”

Trustee Vicki King said when the board first started talking about the issue, she thought an eighth school was the way to go but after reviewing all of the information, right-sizing Solana Ranch is her preferred option. Clerk Holly Lewry agreed and said that it would be “heartbreaking” for families to have to drive past their neighborhood school to go through all of the traffic to get out to Carmel Creek and Solana Pacific.

“This is the best option for now,” Lewry said.

At the Oct. 11 meeting, the board also made attendance assignments for the unoccupied homes in Pacific Highlands Ranch that have never been assigned to Solana Beach School District schools. Housing units in Sendero have been assigned to Solana Ranch; the communities of Terrazza , Vista Del Mar and Carmel to Carmel Creek and Solana Pacific; and Vista Santa Fe to Solana Santa Fe in Rancho Santa Fe.

As new homes are occupied, SBSD Vice President Julie Union said it is important that the district consider transportation as “traffic is terrible” and the district should do whatever it can to make it easier on families going to outlying schools. She said those accommodations should include inter-district transfers when possible.

Safety improvements for accommodating more students at Solana Santa Fe is also very important to the board—the Rancho Santa Fe school is slated for a campus modernization beginning in 2021.

Schade said that the board’s priority is ensuring students in the new neighborhoods feel they are getting equity in terms of facilities.

“No matter what school you go to in the Solana Beach School District, you’re going to get an excellent education,” Schade said.

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