Updated at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 16, 2015
The Grossmont Union High School District may dive deeper into its Proposition U bond funds to pay for its legal fight over a never-built Alpine high school.The East County school board Thursday night will be asked to spend as much as $550,000 more to fend off a lawsuit by its K-8 feeder district based in Alpine.
The spending limit for legal expenses would rise from $1.82 million to $2.37 million under a proposal being heard at the 6 p.m. meeting at the East County Regional Education Center, 24 E. Main St. in El Cajon.
A former member of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee that reviews Grossmont bond spending called the request for more money “totally insane and irresponsible.”
Nick Marinovich, who resigned from the so-called CBOC after representing the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, also said Monday: “The spin may be that Grossmont Union is consistent on being out of control in how they spend bond money. They want another bond election to borrow more?”
School Trustee Priscilla Schreiber said: “So they want more money? … How much do the underwriters and attorneys get for pushing boilerplate language around so you get pennies in return and they make a mint?”
According to CBOC minutes of March 2015, an ad hoc committee looked into the legality of using bond money for legal expenses.
Member Mike Stewart reported that the group spoke with district bond counsel Mary Collins.
In a letter, Collins said: “Based on the forgoing, but without any assurance that a court could not reach a contrary conclusion, we believe it is reasonable for the District to pay litigation expenses with respect to the Alpine litigation referenced above from bond proceeds as expenditures necessary and incidental to the bond projects.”
No matter how the courts rule on the Alpine school district’s lawsuit against the Grossmont Union High School District, the financial winners can be declared.
Attorneys for both sides.
More than $1.7 million has been spent on legal help — $1.4 million by Grossmont as of Friday and $342,674 by Alpine as of Oct. 31, according to the districts after California Public Records Act requests.
The K-8 Alpine Union School District sued Grossmont in mid-October 2014 to set aside $42 million in bond monies for what it calls a promised-but-never-built Alpine high school.
Grossmont is tapping its $417 million Proposition U bond fund to pay its legal expenses.
“Grossmont … has spent $1,404,843.25 to date in legal fees in defense of the Alpine Union School District/[Alpine Taxpayers for Bond Accountability] injunction lawsuit, the appeal on the preliminary injunction, and the validation of the lease-leaseback delivery model for construction at Valhalla and Monte Vista high schools,” said district spokeswoman Catherine Martin.
The Alpine district, with 1,710 children attending, is paying a little over $200 per student in legal costs. Expenses for the 21,173-student Grossmont district of 11 schools are equivalent to $66.35 a student.
On Nov. 4, Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman vacated his own summary judgment favoring the high school district. A state appellate court the day before had ruled for Alpine in a related case.
Pressman later set a motion hearing in the case for 9:30 a.m. Dec. 17.
As of May 31, the lawsuit had cost Grossmont $1.128 million. But on July 9, the Grossmont school board, by a 3-2 vote, authorized spending an additional $750,000 on the cases, according to district records.
On Saturday, Grossmont board president Rob Shield said: “Unfortunately, due to a small group of close-minded activists, the Grossmont board is forced to defend the district in order to restore $42 million in taxpayer funds. These funds are budgeted for much-needed classroom improvements in East County schools that serve thousands of students —including students living in Alpine.”
One of the two Grossmont dissenters, Trustee Priscilla Schreiber, on Friday called the legal spending “outrageous” and “a sad commentary indeed and compared to what Alpine has spent.”
Since the money comes from bond funds, she said, Alpine property owners are paying for Grossmont’s defense via their taxes.
“These funds reduce the available cash for much-needed classroom modernization,” said Schreiber, a longtime proponent of an Alpine high school. (Her new board ally is Jim Stieringer, elected in 2012.)
She said that contrary to Grossmont district statements, “it is not a small group of activists seeking separation from GUHSD, when over 4,500 signatures were accumulated … which exceeded the amount of signatures required for the unification petition.”
“Had this board built what was promised by opening an 800-capacity high school in the Alpine/Blossom Valley area in 2013, this district would be reaping benefits instead of alienating families, racking up unnecessary costs, and pitting an entire district against one of its own communities.”
Alpine schools Superintendent Bruce Cochran did not respond to a request for comment.
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