The 98-acre “Lazy A” horse ranch on Alpine Boulevard is viewed as high school site. Photo by Ken Stone

Updated at 4:10 p.m. Dec. 7, 2017

After 15 years of fits and starts, the Alpine Union School District is poised to learn whether it can start the process of holding an election to become a unified school district — including a long-sought local high school.

It would essentially result in a divorce of the East County feeder district from the Grossmont Union High School District.

Meanwhile, a separate legal battle between Grossmont and Alpine has cost the high school district more than $3.5 million, with Grossmont tapping its $417 million Proposition U bond.

The state Board of Education on Jan. 18-19 will meet in Sacramento to consider three options on unification, according to a Department of Education spokesman.

One is to reject the proposal based on any concerns the board may have. Another is delaying action to seek more information.

And a third is is to determine the Alpine proposal has merit and return it to the local level for compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

“The [state board] cannot approve the proposal until compliance with CEQA is completed,” the spokesman, Robert Oakes, said Wednesday.

“After CEQA compliance (which would be conducted by local entities under the direction of the SBE) … the matter would come back to the SBE for final action — to approve or disapprove.”

Approval would trigger a local election on the proposal, which would turn the K-8 district with 1,750 students into a K-12 with the same boundaries as the original Alpine Union.

Will state staff urge unification?

Grossmont Union High School District legal expenses related to Alpine case. (PDF)
Grossmont Union High School District legal expenses related to Alpine case. (PDF)

That will be known Dec. 15, when the state board hopes to post the January 2018 meeting agenda on its website.

“The posted agenda will contain a link to the CDE analysis and recommendation,” Oakes said via email.

Hoping for a positive outcome is Sal Casamassima, longtime chairman of the Alpine High School Citizens Committee.

He wants to see the state board agree with the unanimous recommendation of the county Board of Education, which in August 2014 voted to back unification for Alpine.

“Other than that, we are cautiously optimistic that we will prevail because the merits of unification are strongly on our side,” Casamassima said.

He also stressed that the unification effort has no connection with an Alpine lawsuit against the El Cajon-based Grossmont district, which hasn’t built an Alpine high school despite two bond issues that contained language promising such a campus.

“They are independent of one another and deal with completely separate issues,” Casamassima said. “Oral argument at the Court of Appeal will take place on Jan. 11 in San Diego and a decision will likely follow about a month later.”

Unification efforts date to 2002, according to an Alpine timeline.

That’s when the K-8 Alpine Union School District and GUHSD issued a joint resolution supporting unification of Alpine schools including a future Alpine High School.

But after school bond elections failed in both districts, the unification effort was dropped.

In 2012, the Alpine Community Planning Group approved a school unification resolution and a petition was later delivered to the county Board of Education.

After several hearings, the county board in August 2014 OK’d the effort, forwarding its recommendation to the state.

Two months later, a group calling itself Alpine Taxpayers for Bond Accountability sued the parent 12-school district in San Diego Superior Court.

It alleged GUHSD’s “waste and misuse of Propositions H and U bond funds,” saying the district intentionally diverted millions of dollars from authorized projects “such as an Alpine area high school” to “numerous unauthorized projects that were never specified.”

In June 2016, Superior Court Judge Joel Pressman ruled that Grossmont didn’t have to set aside millions of dollars toward building a high school in Alpine.

That led to the appeal, which includes the Alpine Union School District. The case is set for 9 a.m. Jan. 11, 2018, in 4th District Appellate Court at 750 B Street, Suite 300, in downtown San Diego.

Grossmont’s legal expenses for the Alpine suit now add up to $3,568,041, including $250,839 for costs related to the appeal, according to district data as of Nov. 30.