Nearly 100 elementary and middle school parents attended Thursday night's school board meeting in protest of new attendance boundaries in the Grossmont Union High School District, and about 20 urged the board to rescind its November decision on the new lines.
The boundaries, which take effect in the 2012-13 school year, would force many incoming students to attend a high school outside their community—and, in some cases, miles past the one they’d grown up expecting to attend.
Board member Priscilla Schreiber also voiced disappointment with how the boundary change was handled and reminded the audience that she had voted against the proposal.
She said it was clear by the lack of attendance at previous meetings that the communities affected were not notified or represented by the boundary committee, despite what she had previously been told.
She said the staff-driven committee had “ramrodded through the process.”
“It’s amazing to me that we had a staff-stacked committee ... Staff should be support to a boundary committee that is representative of parents—two from each feeders districts,” she said. “That did not happen, so they had no say in the process.”
Referring to the Helix Community Garden item that was postponed moments before until assurance could be given about the district’s legal indemnity, she added: “We’re being due diligent over a garden? But yet this is impacting thousands of families, and there’s no due diligence.”
Schools Superintendent Ralf Swenson disagreed with Schreiber, saying after the meeting that he felt a “sincere and transparent effort” was made “through a variety of different networks” to inform people of the nearly yearlong process.
Parents present got little sympathy from Eric Wilson, a boundary committee member and teacher at Monte Vista High School in Spring Valley, who hailed the school’s academic attributes and told those in the audience to give the campus a chance.
“We can deliver what you need. That’s a fact,” said Wilson, one of four Monte Vista advocates to speak, including the school’s principal. “So please do not condemn Monte Vista to being guilty before being proven innocent.”
As for rescinding their decision, Swenson says plans to put the new boundaries into place are already in motion.
“I appreciate the sentiments that were expressed tonight, and I just always want to caution people anytime you’re thinking about an issue like boundaries, those lines have to be drawn somewhere,” he said. “Inevitably, someone will be happy and someone will be unhappy.”
But when asked if that meant fliers had been sent to feeder schools, he wouldn’t say directly.
“I remember meetings with the superintendents of all of East County … and asking that they share that information around the rest of the county,” Swenson said. “We didn’t give them any mailers to mail out. We just asked them to communicate with the people in their district.”
Jennifer Newmann of La Mesa referred to schools in general as the “seams of the community,” getting applause when she said “a 10-year educational plan can’t be easily changed in six months.”
She said she heard about the school boundary change—known as Model 9—over winter break, when it was too late to do anything.
Frustration over the lack of notification was a common theme among the roughly 20 parents who spoke—a fraction compared to those who signed up. Due to board policy, much of the public comment was pushed to the end of what turned into a three-hour meeting.
Two women said they called their schools’ principals and were told that the officials knew nothing of the redistricting. They asked the board why more effort wasn’t put into informing the feeder communities.
“It’s puzzling to me that I receive phone messages from both of my children’s elementary school and middle school principals on a regular, weekly basis, and I had never heard any mention that the critical issue of high school boundaries were being discussed, ” Newmann said.
She added that the contributions she’s made to her children’s schools didn’t “even rate the cost of a postage stamp” needed for an informational mailer.
The mothers didn’t get an answer from the board, though Wilson responded by saying the boundary committee wasn’t required to notify them.
“What the elementary schools’ districts do is completely irrelevant to what we do here,” he said. “We are not San Diego Unified. We are a high school district. You can’t expect La Mesa-Spring Valley to know what we’re doing here because we don’t include them in a lot of our discussions. And it’s not required that we do.”
Kathleen Hedberg equated the boundary change process to a “backroom board deal,” saying she would have appreciated being a part of the discussion to see if any alternatives were available.
Hedberg’s children used to attend Fuerte Elementary School in El Cajon before she put them into private school due to other district issues, she said.
“But I don’t know if I can afford private high school,” she said outside the meeting in El Cajon.
She said Hillsdale Middle School was in their area and used to filter students into Valhalla High School, but is now scheduled to feed into Monte Vista.
“I don’t hate [Monte Vista],” she said. “I just think this is a process we should’ve been involved in. For them to say one day you’re in this school boundary and the next day you’re in that school boundary … it changes everything.”