Wednesday, October 08, 2008

For some board members at Sweetwater Union High School District, it's not about the kids

For many school board members, keeping their power and position is more important than the education of students. Few board members can hold a candle to Jim Cartmill, the favored recipient of developer dollars in Sweetwater Union High School District.

Board member Jaime Mercado has opposed the shameful use of bond money to build two gyms for $20 million instead of building classrooms, the advertised purpose of the bond.

San Diego Magazine
February 2003
Walking the Districts
By Thomas K. Arnold

...In November 2000, South Bay voters approved a $187 million bond measure to pay for improvements at 21 middle and high schools through a property tax surcharge for 25 years. But more than two years later, the only big-ticket projects that have been completed are new gymnasiums at Mar Vista High in Imperial Beach and Sweetwater High in National City.

Officials with the Sweetwater Union High School District, with nearly 38,000 students, maintain the two gyms—each costing more than $10 million—were put on the fast track at the behest of committees of students, parents, teachers and community members. But that hasn’t silenced critics like Bryan Felber, a graduate of district schools who lost his bid for a seat on the Sweetwater board in last November’s election (in which all three incumbents won).

Felber believes it’s time for an outside audit to determine where, exactly, all the Proposition BB money is going. He accuses trustees of building the gyms as a “monument” to impress the community. “Everyone sees the gyms right away, at basketball games and rallies,” he says, “while the community at large can’t go into classrooms. This way, they can point to the gyms, say, ‘Look at what we’ve done’ and pat themselves on the back.”

Meanwhile, conditions are steadily worsening at South Bay schools. Parents in the community of EastLake say their 10-year-old high school is woefully inadequate for the population explosion occurring in the area. Enrollment exceeds the school’s capacity of 2,400 by more than 1,000, and at the beginning of this school year, students were forced to sit on window ledges because there weren’t enough chairs. Sixteen classroom trailers have since been moved on campus to help alleviate overcrowding.

Similar overcrowded conditions exist at Rancho del Rey Middle School, while teachers at Chula Vista Middle School have drawn picket lines to protest the building of an administration center before a new cafeteria to replace the previous one, which had burned down. There’s also grumbling over the fact that a new high school was built in San Ysidro before one in Otay Mesa that was supposed to be built first. The San Ysidro school opened with just 576 students.

“The number-one question I heard when I was out walking precincts,” Felber says, “is ‘Where are the funds? Why aren’t they building classrooms?’”

Board member Jim Cartmill responds, “We formed community-based committees to determine priorities at each school site. Because of the logistics of moving students during construction and the needs of the schools, Sweetwater and Mar Vista opted to build their gyms first, with classrooms attached. The next phase will include additional classrooms and infrastructure improvements.”...

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