The Solana Beach School District board has decided it will not build the district’s eighth school in Pacific Highlands Ranch nor will it expand Solana Ranch Elementary School to house the incoming students from the growing Pacific Highlands Ranch.
The board voted unanimously to use the district’s existing space available at Solana Santa Fe, Carmel Creek and Solana Pacific schools at its meeting on Oct. 10.
The district is preparing to absorb students from 464 new homes scheduled to be built over the next two school years.
On Sept. 13, the district received notification from Pardee Homes that the developer has pulled its 1,600th dwelling unit permit in Pacific Highlands Ranch, triggering the 60-day clock on the district’s decision to purchase a 10-acre site on Golden Cypress Place to build school number eight.
The earliest that school number eight could open would be 2024-25, when the enrollment wave is expected to begin to decline, resulting in overbuilding of school facilities.
“Sufficient space exists and is available,” said SBSD Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger said. In making her recommendation to the board, she said she was not comfortable overbuilding and leaving her successor to deal with a decision to have to close one or two schools due to low enrollment in future years.
The district currently has $40 million in community facilities district (CFD) funds available to address Pacific Highlands Ranch and it is estimated that a new 368-student school would cost $55 million, including the $6.9 million pro forma purchase of the property from Pardee. That leaves the district with a $15 million shortfall in funding.
“As a district we have to use our financial resources properly and building school eight does not make financial sense,” said SBSD President Julie Union. “We simply don’t have money to build school eight but, most importantly, we don’t need it.”
The board’s decision followed more than two years of discussion, “thoughtful analysis of facts,” workshops, community meetings, small group meetings and personal phone calls and sit-downs with impacted residents. Board members said they were disappointed to hear from PHR residents and their hired attorney accuse them of not listening or gathering enough input.
At the meeting, the board heard from parents who are upset that their children have been assigned to schools outside of Pacific Highlands Ranch, particularly those who are paying high Mello Roos fees and cannot attend their neighborhood school. The district has assigned all of the incoming PHR neighborhoods to SBSD schools and worked to make these assignments prior to homes being on the market, however, there were some instances were homebuyers say they were “misled” by Pardee Homes.
Last year, one resident of Casabella said they were assigned to Solana Ranch until a few days after her escrow closed. Residents of the development brought purchase agreements to the board that clearly stated that Solana Ranch was their home school.
Brentlinger said that every option has its supporters and opponents, and at the meeting the board heard public comment from people who told them not to waste money on a new school as well as from those who urged them to build the school arguing that sending students out of PHR “rips the community apart” and forces them to sit in traffic to travel to Carmel Valley and Rancho Santa Fe for school.
Board member Vicki King said it just didn’t make sense financially to build an eighth school and she also did not want to overcrowd Solana Ranch.
“I really strongly believe that I have a fiduciary responsibility to every single person in this district, every school and every child to make fiscally responsible decisions to do what’s best for kids and to do what serves the entire district,” King said. “This includes making these really bold and tough decisions that some may not agree with.”
Utilizing existing facilities will require additional classroom space at both Solana Santa Fe and Solana Pacific. The option would include two new relocatable classroom buildings at Solana Pacific at a cost of $880,000 and removing the eight-classroom portables and replacing them with a permanent 10-classroom building at Solana Santa Fe, a cost of $4 million.
At Solana Santa Fe, there is capacity for 460 students with 308 students currently enrolled. Solana Santa Fe is slated for a campus modernization in 2021-22, which in addition to new classrooms includes parking lot and traffic flow improvements and kindergarten classroom and administration office upgrades.
Solana Santa Fe’s budgeted $14.5 million remodel would be funded from Measure JJ funds as well as $4.5 million from the Crosby’s community facilities district funds.
At the meeting, board members Union, King, Gaylin Allbaugh and Debra Schade all shared their experiences of living through the growth of Carmel Valley at SBSD schools with their children—it meant attending a school outside of their community and being at a school with over 700 students, however, the wave did stabilize as they believe it will in Pacific Highlands Ranch.
Allbaugh said Solana Highlands, her home school, was located 3.1 miles from her house and she wouldn’t trade the experience she had for anything, “A neighborhood school is not just the one that’s closest to you,” said Allbaugh, saying she knew all PHR families would find a school they love.
“I am 100 percent confident no matter what school your child attends, they are going to get a great education and you are going to love it and you are going to love your teachers,” Schade said.
The board still has decisions to make about future assignments to Solana Ranch when capacity becomes available as well as a pilot transportation program for the 2020-21 school year. The board is considering one bus route to Solana Santa Fe and one route to Carmel Creek and Solana Pacific.
A ridership survey is currently available on the school district website. If interested, take the survey at surveymonkey.com/r/LYNVLRP