April 15, 2005

Editorial:

Time to re-evaluate Sweetwater Union High School District and Chula Vista?

The pause in the land swap deal between the City of Chula Vista and the Sweetwater Union High School District is as good time as any to re-evaluate and consider the long term benefit to the City of Chula Vista and a shared high school board/district with South San Diego.

Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD), the largest of its kind in the state, wants to build a new school administration headquarters on L Street at a cost of $122 million. The City of Chula Vista has balked at the terms of this complex deal which seeks to swap the six acres the District presently sits on at 5th and Oxford Street in Chula Vista for six acres on F Street. The consultant for the city considers this a bad deal, leaving the city short about $36.3 million when comparing land value.

The deal is at a stand still for the time being, as such this is an opportunity for the city to re-evaluate its association with SUHSD and consider what is in the best interest for the city – maintain their ties with the District, or is it time to consider breaking away and establishing a district that focuses on serving the residents of Chula Vista?

As has been noted in the past Chula Vista is the second largest city in San Diego County with a population of 200,000 and expected to grow by 90,000 in the near future. It is a city with 39 elementary schools 7 middle, 3 Jr., and 10 high schools.

Sweetwater district schools serve approximately 39,000 students in grades 7-12 and 29,981 adult learners in the south San Diego county communities of Bonita, Chula Vista, EastLake, Imperial Beach, National City, Otay Mesa, South San Diego and San Ysidro. It is the largest secondary (grades 7-12) school system in California.

SUHSD serves the needs of many with a diverse population and communities. It has to balance the needs of the students of San Ysidro, for example, with the needs of students in EastLake. Often times this balancing act is inequitable. An example can be drawn from the recent controversy in the completion of a middle school in San Ysidro and another in Eastlake which were both started at the same time and supposedly on track to be completed at the same time. As it turns out the Eastlake school was completed on time with all the bells and whistles, meanwhile the San Ysidro School sits unfinished with a completion date still years down the road.

Then there is the issue of a lack of and overcrowded schools in the rapidly expanding Eastern part of Chula Vista and the rundown conditions of the older schools in Western Chula Vista. Residents have a sense of a lack of accountability and responsiveness. And, where homeowners in Chula Vista may be willing to pay more in property taxes to address the needs of their children the other cities and communities may not be on board when it comes to voting on yet another bond.

There is also the issue of the “No Child Left Behind” legislation which has the Sweetwater school district on the watch list for not meeting the standards.

The inequity and imbalance will only become more exasperated with time.

The Chula Vista city council has spent a tremendous amount of time discussing redevelopment, Espanada, and the General Plan Update, mapping out the city’s future for the next 20 years, scant public attention has been paid to the educational needs.

Swapping land with the school district is not a priority and this impasse provides a unique opportunity to put the deal on the back burner, look at this commitment and its implications. The city council, the educational community, and the community in general should get together and discuss the future and the needs of the city in an open and frank discussion. And, if after this evaluation period and it is decided that a future with Sweetwater Union High School district is in the best interest of the city, then so be it.

If the city commits to financially supporting a new admin building in its redevelopment area, thus committing the city to the district without public discussion would be a disservice to its’ residents. The educational future of the children of Chula Vista is far too important to rush into a decision that could impact the city for decades.

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