By Mark J. Zacovic, Ph.D.
I am writing to respond to a recent opinion piece published in the Times of San Diego by a board member of the Grossmont Union High School District. That piece, unfortunately, makes suggestions that are not accurate and unfairly takes aim at a group of hard-working volunteers.
As a member of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC), I want to assure readers that we are an independent body that bases all of our decisions on facts. I want to stress that point because of its importance. All of our decisions are based on facts.
It is also important to note that we are a group of community representatives appointed by the Grossmont High School District Board of Trustees to fulfill California legislative requirements. We are not politicians. We are citizens, taxpayers, business leaders, parents, local residents – each of whom is focused on safeguarding taxpayer and student interests.
Committees like ours exist throughout the state and are charged with two fundamental responsibilities. First, we ensure that any projects proposed by the school district are covered by the voter-approved bond measures. Second, we make sure the tax dollars spent on projects are accounted for properly.
In Grossmont, the CBOC is focused on the bond activities approved under Proposition H and Proposition U.
In addition to analyzing bond language, we also, as directed by Prop. U, examine the district’s Master Plan to help determine whether a project would qualify under Prop. U.
As you can probably imagine, what worked yesterday for a school district that serves more than 22,000 students might not work today. Prop. U recognizes this and notes that the Master Plan may be amended periodically to fit the changing needs of students.
The 2009 Master Plan, for example, which is the current document guiding the district, is an amended version of the 2008 plan, and the board member who suggested in her opinion piece that it’s flawed voted to approve the amended plan.
As a 30-year California school administrator, including 18 as a chief financial officer, I have been involved in numerous bond programs from start to finish. They are all set up the same way in the sense that they each include language that gives school districts the flexibility to adapt the bond program to meet the rapidly changing technological and learning needs of today’s students.
Bond language is necessarily broad and is not a promise to construct a certain number of projects. The ultimate sequencing of projects is determined by a blend of student needs, financial conditions and safety and structural requirements.
I could explain in great detail the process Grossmont’s CBOC uses to review planning documents, expenditure reports and audits to ensure the district is using bond dollars effectively, responsibly and in compliance with the language of Proposition H and Proposition U.
But that’s not what is driving the criticism we’re hearing from one board member. What’s behind it, unfortunately, is a lawsuit this board member supports. It was filed by some Alpine residents who want the district to build a high school in Alpine.
The decision to build a new high school is not within the scope of the CBOC’s responsibilities. That decision rests entirely with the Board of Trustees.
The CBOC is unanimous in its opinion that the use of Prop. U funds to build a new high school in Alpine would clearly be allowed under the bond language. In this case, however, the ballot measure contains specific language, including enrollment benchmarks, that need to be met before construction can begin.
As with all of our decisions, this one is based on facts.
For some people, this issue has become emotional, so accusations occasionally rule the day. In the end, it’s the students who suffer the most.
A judge recently set a trial date for December, and the plaintiffs in Alpine interpreted that as a victory. Here is what Grossmont Superintendent Ralf Swenson said about the judge’s decision to set a trial date:
“The Court’s ruling does not decide anything 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. We are confident that once he sees the evidence, he will rule in favor of Grossmont.”
Superintendent Swenson added: “The lawsuit by the Alpine School District 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. Alpine’s manipulation of the court system and its aggressive tactics 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.”
What does this all mean for the CBOC? Criticism or not, we will continue to stay focused. We will continue to keep our heads down and do the work we’re tasked with – matching proposed projects against facts and ensuring taxpayers are protected.
A final note: all of our meetings are public. If you wish to attend, please check the district website for meeting dates and locations: www.GUHSD.net
Zacovic, a member of the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee, is the retiring president of Cuyamaca College.