Watchdogs wanted to monitor school bond money disbursements


By Marsha Sutton

This may be local education’s most boring, yet perhaps most important, lead in a column ever written:

“Applications are now being accepted for those interested in serving on San Dieguito Union High School District’s Proposition AA Independent Citizens’ Oversight Committee (ICOC). Information and the application form are available now on the district’s website []. Anyone wishing to serve has until Friday, Feb 8 to complete and submit an application.”

It may not sound sexy, but there are thousands of people residing within the boundaries of the San Dieguito district who’d be very grateful if residents with knowledge and experience would offer their time and expertise to be a watchdog and protect how millions of tax dollars are about to be spent.

The narrow passage of Proposition AA in November allowed San Dieguito to issue $449 million in bonds, with the requirement that an oversight committee be formed to monitor and ensure proper expenditure of taxpayer money and report to the school board and the public on its findings.

The ICOC has two primary functions:

  1. To ensure that bond revenues are expended only for the purposes of construction, renovation or replacement of school facilities, including the furnishing and equipping of school facilities, or the acquisition or lease of real property for school facilities.
  2. To ensure that no funds are used for any employees’ salaries or other school operating expenses.

Meetings of the ICOC are public, subject to the provisions of the Ralph M. Brown Act and held quarterly. The committee is required to issue regular reports. These reports, meeting minutes and all documents will be part of the public record and made available on the district’s website.
Members must live within district boundaries and are appointed for two-year terms without compensation. Applicants need to file a Statement of Economic Interests form with the Fair Political Practices Commission, which will be made public.

Applicants also need to explain why they would like to serve on the ICOC, provide their qualifications and educational background, state membership in any civic organizations, provide a list of community service, and be willing to attend all meetings.

The ICOC must have no fewer than seven members, and must include someone from each of these five categories:

•An individual in a bona fide taxpayers’ organization

•An individual active in a business organization located within the district

•An individual active in a senior citizens’ organization

•A parent of a district student, who is active in a parent-teacher organization

•A parent/guardian of a district student

Eric Dill, San Dieguito’s associate superintendent of business services, said the San Diego County Taxpayers Association is assisting the district in finding qualified candidates for the taxpayers category. And a business organization, he said, can be a Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club, for example.

The senior citizens group, however, is more difficult to quantify, he said. “They have to belong to some organization that represents senior interests,” he said. And it can’t be AARP. An example, Dill said, might be a retirement community located within the district that has a Homeowners Association.

SDUHSD trustees will hold a special school board meeting on Feb. 12 to interview all the candidates, deliberate in public, and make the appointments.

Anyone who can contribute their expertise is encouraged to apply.

Internal management team

To monitor and coordinate the projects to be funded through the passage of Proposition AA, the district will bring the oversight work in-house rather than hire outside program management companies.

Dill said this will save the district millions of dollars and cost half as much as using outside firms.

At the Jan. 17 board meeting, the SDUHSD board reviewed an item to create this in-house team “to oversee and manage the financing and construction of bond-approved projects.”

There is precedent for this. When the district was engaged in planning and construction of Carmel Valley Middle School and Canyon Crest Academy, Dill said the district’s planning department employed seven people. It now has two.

Four positions are being reclassified and/or created: facilities planning analyst, construction contracts analyst, construction projects information technician and construction & facility projects coordinator.

The first two are updated job classifications and pay $66,197 to $84,633 annually. The second two are new positions that pay $42,535 to $60,016 annually.

Construction will continue over the next eight years, Dill said, beginning this summer with the “easy projects” that can be done more simply and “don’t require state approval,” he said.

La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad will get technology upgrades, including increased bandwidth and infrastructure work. Dill said Torrey Pines High School, with a blend of technology, also has limited bandwidth and needs infrastructure upgrades, but LCC’s is more outdated so that will take priority.

At TPHS, 2013 work will include stadium lighting, fire road improvement and a water main replacement.

The parking lot at Diegueno Middle School and the grass field at Oak Crest Middle School, both in the northern part of the district, will also get attention this year.

CEQA exemption for CCA

Despite some complaints that bond money should not be used for athletics, the artificial turf and fields at Canyon Crest Academy and San Dieguito Academy in Encinitas will be improved this summer.

“The field projects at SDA and CCA are relatively quick and easy projects to get started and accomplish, and will bring those two physical education and athletic spaces into parity with the conditions at our other two high schools,” said Dill, who estimated the cost for each to be about $3 million. Seating is also part of those projects, he said.

The district claims these two track-and-field projects are not subject to the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act. At the Jan. 17 board meeting, the board was asked to authorize Dill to execute and file Notices of Exemption for Track and Field reconstruction at CCA and SDA. Objectors have 30 days after filing with the County Recorder to challenge the exemption.

The Notice of Exemption describing the CCA work states: “Reconstruct Academy stadium including artificial turf and track, bleachers, concession stand, and restrooms – to increase safety and provide ADA compliance and reduce water use.”

The reason given for the exemption states: “Replacing/reconstructing an existing facility, with construction of limited small structures with minimal alteration to land; involves minor addition to an existing school within existing grounds with no increase in student capacity.”

New middle school

Also scheduled for 2013 is site acquisition for a new middle school in Pacific Highlands Ranch, to serve the growing PHR population and alleviate overcrowding at Carmel Valley Middle School.

“We are in negotiations with Pardee on the purchase contract,” said Dill, who hopes to conclude negotiations by this summer.

Since both parties are in closed-session discussions over the property and it could “compromise our negotiation position with the developer,” Dill would not disclose the district’s budget to buy the land.

Land was set aside years ago for this school by Pardee Homes in the early stages of PHR development. At the time, an option was given to the district to purchase two parcels adjacent to Canyon Crest Academy, at its southeast and southwest corners.

The six- and seven-acre parcels are both dirt lots currently. The east side is for the middle school while the west side will be for eventual expansion of CCA.

Dill said the middle school will accommodate about 1,000 students but will be built in two phases – Phase 1 for about 500 students and Phase 2 for another 500. Phase 1, he said, will take longer to build, because common areas and administrative buildings will need to be constructed in this phase.

Design work and approvals are expected to take about 18 months, and another 18 months to complete Phase 1 of actual construction.

Dill said he hopes to prep the site in 2014, which will include relocating the CCA fields to make room for the new school. Actual middle school construction would begin in 2015 for Phase 1’s 500-seat classroom building, with Phase 2 adding another 500 seats in 2020.

The district’s best plan is to open in 2016, but “we are closely watching housing permits in the south end of the district as that activity could affect the timing of the new middle school project,” he said.

— Marsha Sutton can be reached at