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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Showdown at Sage Creek: How to Vote Against Schools

According to a local newspaper columnist, allowing Carlsbad’s new high school to sit empty for at least a year is the answer to the district’s financial woes. But T.K. Arnold’s argument for delaying the opening of Sage Creek High is about as watery as the school’s fictional namesake. A closer look reveals how his politics trumps his punditry.

Calling Prop 30 “Gov. Jerry Brown’s blackmail ballot” tells you all you need to know about Arnold’s political bias. But what’s equally troubling is his reasoning. In a facts-free claim, he says the district could “save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year (my italics) in operating costs that could be used to close a gaping budget hole as high as $11 million” if Proposition 30 fails. The mixed metaphor (I’m trying to picture a “high” hole) could make you chuckle if the subject weren’t so serious.

Arnold doesn’t bother to estimate the cost of letting a $104 million high school campus remain vacant for at least a year, as well as the loss of learning opportunities to students denied access to new facilities.In his quest for savings, Arnold reminds us that the old high school has been completely rebuilt and that the greatest projected increase in high school enrollment is in the low single digits. He doesn’t bother to cite actual numbers, so here are the official enrollment projections released by the district last month.

Carlsbad High School enrollment this fall is estimated to be 3,199. It is projected to rise to as high as 3,552 next fall. That’s an 11 percent increase, hardly a “low single digit.” If Sage Creek High won’t take them, CHS would have to squeeze another 353 students onto its campus. At what cost to kids?

According to enrollment projections, high school enrollment is expected to grow by as many 800 more students over the next five years, 24 percent higher than this year. And Arnold suggests opening Sage Creek High School next fall is no big deal?

When I wrote for the North County Times, community columnists were not allowed to endorse candidates for office. But it looks like “there’s a new sheriff in town,” with Arnold’s endorsement of Ray Pearson to replace either of the incumbents on the Carlsbad School Board.

He explains that declaring themselves “happy with the district’s direction” in opening Sage Creek next fall makes the incumbents unacceptable, and that Ray Pearson says he’d take the money being spent on the new high school and use it to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes.

But in San Diego County’s Sample Ballot and Information Pamphlet, Ray Pearson is not quite as forthcoming. He writes, “Now is the time to ask parents, community members and stakeholders would they prefer delaying the opening of a new high school or using the funds for classroom reduction.” Assuming he meant “and” instead of “or” it sounds like he wants to survey his constituents rather than persuade them.

But the largest assumption of all, by both Arnold and Pearson, is that delaying the opening of Sage Creek could produce the savings needed to produce the results they want.

Sounds to me like two guys who’ll be voting against tax increases and looking for justification to vote against schools.

As for me, I’ll be voting for Elisa Williamson and Kelli Moors as well as Prop 30. I agree with them that the district is heading in the right direction by opening Sage Creek High next fall.

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