By Raymond R. Beltrán
Side by side comparisions: On the left side San Ysidro High School and on the right Otay Ranch High School. Same money, same plan, same start date, different results.
Since the opening of Sweetwater Union High School District’s San Ysidro High School campus, students have been wrestling with the ability to attain the privileges granted to sister schools in the Sweetwater district. In 2002, parents and students, as San Ysidro residents, not only struggled to get their feet into the newly constructed classrooms, but were also shut out of the Compact for Success program, a program assuring that Sweetwater district students would be prospective San Diego State University undergraduates if they could graduate high school with a 3.0 grade point average.
It was also recorded that in 2002 a mere six percent of San Ysidro residents earned a college degree from a four-year university, and less than half of the population has a high school diploma.
As the parents who’ve fought to get their teenagers into the once new classrooms, and who’ve argued against the exclusion of Compact for Success, San Ysidro parents are currently opposing the stagnant state of construction at their teenager’s high school, supposedly having been funded very well. To the parents and California’s Department of General Services, construction should be complete, but now the school district is saying that San Ysidro’s construction works in two phases, one of which is already complete.What were supposed to be twin campuses, between Otay Ranch and San Ysidro High School according to the district, has turned into a question of whether or not we’re seeing a slanted state of progress and neglect, leaving parents and students to ask, Why is San Ysidro always the last?
“The planning people never said there was two phases [to the construction],” says one San Ysidro High School parent, Susana Torres. “They would have never informed us if we hadn’t said something. Do they think that we’re stupid?”
According to California’s Department of General Services’ (DGS) Public School Construction records, Otay Ranch High School and San Ysidro High School are not only identical in their design, but both schools seem to have been already completed. Concerned parents don’t see the correlation between the completion of Otay Ranch High and the sluggish income of San Ysidro High amenities.
The students, up until three weeks ago, had no benches or tables to sit and eat their lunches, which they receive in a walk through cafeteria that is unfit for leisure, protection from Southern California summer heat and winter showers, and at times, doesn’t seem sufficient enough for a school that hopes to cater to an approximate 2,600 students in 2006.
“I think it’s wrong [that] people are eating outside, even when it rains,” says sixteen-year-old Jesse, a San Ysidro High School student. “Sometimes, you have to stand in line for no reason because the line is so long and then, half the students don’t eat. It’s a waste of time, and we only have thirty minutes.”
As Otay Ranch students have been able to enjoy leisure time in their one-year-old “multi-purpose building,” San Ysidro students and parents are appalled that for a school which was started first, San Ysidro High is not reaping the benefits it should have been, granted that it was approved for the Financial Hardship Fund.
Through the Hardship program, the Sweetwater Union High School District was approved for a $15 million grant and a “normal state grant” of $21 million to construct and complete the $36 million-estimated San Ysidro High School site. Applications for the grant were approved in May 2000, and the “amount released” for the completion of the entire school was documented as $38 million in May 2001, but today the school remains unfinished.
According to Sweetwater Union High School District Chief Operating Officer Bruce A. Husson, San Ysidro High was originally supposed to be built in two phases. He claims the school is incomplete because through the Hardship program, the district’s budget was limited to how much could be spent on Phase I of construction. Altogether, Husson says that the first phase is complete, having cost $52 million, but in contradiction, GSD records show that the first phase of construction should have only cost $17 million, and Phase II, $19 million.
Currently, San Ysidro High School is awaiting its tennis courts, performing arts theatre, a “multi-purpose building” like the one Otay Ranch students enjoy today. The students were supplied with two canopies in the middle of the school, but two that are unable to provide weather protection for even half the students.
The Sweetwater school district says that Phase II of the construction has been postponed in order to report the completion of Phase I to the state, which will then provide financial support back to the district.
Husson also says that Otay Ranch High School was built quicker because it was funded through the Mello-Roos plan, which makes funding more accessible. Under Mello-Roos, a district, with two-thirds voter support, can form a Community Facilities District (CFD). This district has all the “privileges of a legally sanctioned governmental body,” entitling it to create museums, elementary schools, libraries, parks, and schools like Otay Ranch High. The funds for these projects are accumulated through the CFD’s ability to sell tax-exempt bonds to fund their projects.
Even though San Ysidro is officially included in the community entitled to funding through the Mello-Roos plan, being a part of the Sweetwater district, only 25% of the students attending San Ysidro High live in the Mello-Roos community, and because of this, Sweetwater Union High School District will not fund them through monies received through Mello-Roos.
Otay Ranch High School was denied grants through the Financial Hardship Fund, but it puzzles parents that an aluminum “multi-purpose building” has already been constructed when the school itself was only completed last year without the financial backing San Ysidro received. DGS records also indicate that Otay Ranch High School was also an estimated $36 million plan, but is documented as costing up to $52 million.
According to parents, the completion, apart from the landscape, of the Otay Ranch High far outweighs any progress made at the San Ysidro campus. With the amount of money granted to San Ysidro, parents say their school should be just as good as any other for their teenagers.
In the early proposals of funding distribution from Proposition BB in July 2000, Sweetwater district’s Facilities Improvement Plan stated that $12.2 million would go to building an “Otay Mesa High School,” and there was no mention of their being a San Ysidro campus. One year later, Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand said that among other repairs on various Sweetwater campus’, the $12.2 million would go towards building SanYsidro High, and only “a little over $2 million” of Prop. BB funds would support the “Otay Mesa” campus. Today, Katherine Wright and Bruce Husson of the planning and construction department of the Sweetwater district say that Otay Ranch High hasn’t received any funding from Proposition BB, where San Ysidro High has already used the $12.2 million.
Barely last week, San Ysidro High School Principal Hector Espinoza was able to add benches and lunch tables to the school’s campus, which cost an approximate $50,000 of the school’s budget, not the districts. Although, he says the school isn’t completed, he’s hopeful of the district’s plan to continue construction with a multi-purpose building, a tennis court, and a new performing art’s theatre.
“They felt that since we are so much smaller than Otay, they could lie to us,” says San Ysidro High School parent Christina Alamillo. “They don’t think the students deserve this. A whole year with no form of shade or covering? If the principal hadn’t pushed for [tables and benches] it wouldn’t have been built.”
To the Sweetwater Union High School District, it’s a matter of funding, and they estimate that San Ysidro High construction will not commence until 2005. This estimation conflicts with the October 2002 deadline parents say was actually proposed in the beginning of negotiations. To concerned San Ysidro parents, the issue of their high school standing incomplete, unlike the finished Otay Ranch High School campus, is one more act of neglect in a pool of deceptions imposed on the San Ysidro student community, paralleling with the fact that a majority of their neighbors barely have a complete high school education.