Advocates of a never-built Alpine high school were handed a stinging defeat Thursday when a Superior Court judge said the Grossmont Union High School District didn’t have to set aside $42 million for a campus thought to have been promised in two school bonds.
“After a thorough review of the evidence, Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman’s finding is that the Grossmont District wins on all counts and the $42 million preliminary injunction will be dissolved,” Grossmont schools Superintendent Ralf Swenson said in a statement Thursday night.
“This is a win for the students, teachers and the taxpayers of East County, as our governing board can now resume their efforts to see that the taxpayers’ dollars are put back to work for the benefits of our schools and the students that we serve.”
The judge also rebuked Grossmont school board member Priscilla Schreiber, a longtime dissenter who favored the Alpine school.
Pressman rejected the argument that Grossmont and its K-8 feeder district had a deal to build a high school. The plaintiffs said the Alpine Union School District dropped an earlier petition for unification in exchange for a Grossmont commitment to build the school.
He called testimony by Schreiber “not credible.”
Moreover, Pressman said Schreiber took part in email exchanges with Alpine advocate Sal Casamassima on district unification plans that were “designed to partially mislead the [Grossmont] district.”
He said Schreiber wrote “I’m in the game” in a plan he called an effort to mislead her own district regarding certain of Alpine’s community leaders’ intentions regarding unification.
But in a comment posted on Facebook, Schreiber began by calling Pressman’s contention “based on a complete fabrication by Grossmont’s attorneys.”
“There was more courtroom discussion over the pulling of the Alpine High design plans behind the backs of the board and the public than about one email exchange from an Alpine community member born out of frustration by the district’s actions,” she said.
She asked how Pressman would “somehow render one email exchange as having any bearing on the trial issues of the case and not even look to what precipitated the angry and disappointed exchange.”
She went on:
“If the judge would question my credibility borne out of one email exchange with a frustrated Alpine community member and not acknowledge the deceitful actions of the district, then, with all due respect to Judge Pressman, this case never had a chance to be litigated fairly in his courtroom.
“I wonder what Judge Pressman would then call the actions of those who would kick people off their land AFTER knowingly setting a criteria to build the school that they knew could not be met and that they could manipulate, pull plans from DSA behind the backs of the board and the public after the board gave the directive by showing good faith to Alpine would submit the plans, use taxpayer bond funds to litigate this lawsuit, the funneling of $60K of taxpayer bond dollars through the attorneys to hire a PR firm to campaign against Alpine, etc.”
Casamassima, a leader of the Alpine High School Citizens Committee in the current unification effort, told Times of San Diego that “the matter you quoted was fully discussed during the trial, and I will be happy to discuss it with you in the near future after our legal options are fully explored.”
But The San Diego Union-Tribune suggested that Pressman’s preliminary ruling after a nine-day trial could still be changed.
Warrington Parker III, an attorney representing Grossmont, was quoted as saying: “We don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but we are hopeful that the court will not change its mind.”
The Alpine Union School District — which is awaiting a state Board of Education decision on an application to become a unified district and split from Grossmont — had argued in court that an Alpine high school was promised in Propositions H and U in 2004 and 2008.
Even the county Grand Jury agreed, in a scathing 2013 report, that such a school was promised.
The U-T said: “Pressman addressed the wording in the propositions. He noted that Prop. H bond language reads that funds ‘may be spent’ to build a high school in Alpine, not that they ‘must be spent on a high school.’ In Prop. U, Pressman said language identifies the school as one of many projects that were “authorized,” but they were never ‘required.’”
Attorney Craig Sherman, representing an allied Alpine taxpayers group, said the case would be appealed.
“Unfortunately, that task will now be borne by one or both of the plaintiffs,” Sherman was quoted a saying. “But we welcome the opportunity and the chance for this to come out as intended by the voters who enacted Prop. U. The actions and conduct of Grossmont indicates it just does not care about the rather clear voter mandate for Alpine.”
The Grossmont district has spent at least $2 million defending against the suits.
Schreiber said: “I am truly disappointed with the preliminary decision as I sincerely thought that after weighing through all the ‘stuff’ and ‘statements’ that his decision would be fair to all parties, since the district has said over and over that they will build the school. But with what? The next Grossmont bond or the next?”