Updated at 9:45 p.m. June 10, 2015
A Superior Court judge has again ruled that the Grossmont Union High School District must set aside $42 million in bond money for a long-sought Alpine high school.
In a six-page order Tuesday, Judge Joel Pressman kept in place an injunction against the 11-school East County school district involving Proposition U funds.
The rulings favor the K-8 Alpine Union School District — which hopes to become a K-12 Alpine Unified School District.
The tiny Alpine district, together with a group called Alpine Taxpayers for Bond Accountability, sued its parent high school district out of fear the 2008 voter-approved bond issue would run out of money before a high school was built.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Grossmont schools Superintendent Ralf Swenson said the ruling decides nothing in Alpine’s favor.
“In his ruling, Judge Pressman repeatedly notes that he is not deciding any of the issues now, but that he will need to review the evidence before ruling,” Swenson said.”We are confident that once he sees the evidence, he will rule in favor of Grossmont.”
- Read: Judge Joel Pressman’s ruling on Alpine injunction (PDF)
- Read: Grossmont Union High School District media statement (PDF)
- Read: Alpine Wins Big in On-Going Court Battle for High School (Alpine Community Network)
- Related: The Case of the Missing Alpine High School (Voice of San Diego)
- Related: Judge favors Alpine over Grossmont (Union-Tribune)
Ian Friedman, a lawyer for the Alpine Union schools, told Times of San Diego that the district is pleased with the ruling.
“AUSD will now prepare to prove the merits of its claims, requiring Grossmont to finally fulfill its promise to complete construction of a high school in Alpine,” he said.
The state Board of Education is considering an Alpine unification petition, which has the support of the San Diego County Board of Education.
Grossmont district officials deny that an Alpine high school was promised in Propositions H of 2004 and U in 2008 — totaling nearly $700 million.
But Pressman wrote: “The Court cannot determine on the pleadings that Grossmont did not have such an obligation [to build an Alpine high school] under Proposition U.”
He said Alpine has “sufficiently alleged an actual controversy” on whether Grossmont has an “affirmative obligation to complete construction of a high school based upon Proposition U (or set aside funds for that purpose).”
Voice of San Diego reported last month that the Grossmont district, which appealed the injunction to the state 4th District Court of Appeal, had spent $677,592 in legal fees fighting what school board president Rob Shield called “this frivolous lawsuit.”
The five-school Alpine feeder district has spent nearly $97,000 pursuing the legal action, Voice of San Diego said.
Grossmont board member Priscilla Schreiber, a longtime backer of an Alpine high school, told Times of San Diego: “Our board will be reviewing the legal costs [Thursday] evening at our board meeting. … I will be asking if we’ve exceeded the initial purchase order and how we will address those costs going forward.”
She said she plans to ask whether legal expenses should come out of the bond program.
An update meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Alpine Elementary hosted by Alpine schools Superintendent Bruce Cochran on his district’s unification efforts.
Alpiners have been seeking their own high school since the late 1990s. Among other things, they say several hundred students make long commutes on sometimes deadly roads to Granite Hills and Steele Canyon high schools.
High school advocate George Barnett wrote on the Alpine Community Network:
Assuming Grossmont’s lodged appeal of Judge Pressman’s spending injunction to preserve bond cash for an Alpine high school loses, and a 3-judge panel of the Appeals Court has already denied Grossmont’s request to ‘stay’ the spending injunction during the appeals process, there will be a straight line to trial in Superior Court the first week of December.
To my legally untrained eye, the short and sweet part of this is that the Judge has rejected Grossmont’s pleadings that it did not have a contract commitment with Alpine to build a high school; and he rejected Grossmont’s pleadings that it was not compelled to build the high school by the “promises” in the bond ballot text of Prop U. [These] are issues warranting a trial.
“To me, this is extremely powerful,” Barnett wrote. “It tells me that the judge has found there is sufficient support and validity to move these complaints to trial. A trial date has been set for the first week of this coming December. It will not be a jury trial, but an administrative trial before Judge Pressman.”
Grossmont schools chief Swenson said:
The lawsuit … has blocked 11 of 14 bond-related school improvement projects on campuses throughout the Grossmont Union High School District. The plaintiffs also are seeking to block any work on the 3 surviving projects, including the $30 million renovation of Valhalla High School, scheduled to begin next week. Thousands of students and teachers are affected by the suspension of these important projects.
Swenson slammed what he called “Alpine’s manipulation of the court system and its aggressive tactics,” which are “holding all of our schools hostage. They’re targeting our entire district in an effort to build one high school that is not warranted at this time.”
The judge’s action Tuesday rejected Grossmont’s arguments against a temporary injunction he handed down in January.