Chula Vista schools' east side–west side divide

Sweetwater district will need to spend $780M for modernization

Sweetwater's 20-year history of enrollment numbers
  • Sweetwater's 20-year history of enrollment numbers

“I think there’s a perception out there that literally the majority of students from the west are going east,” Manuel Rubio, director of grants & communications for the Sweetwater Union High School District, explained in a recent interview. He was referring to the many community voices that claim middle and high schools west of the I-805 are experiencing declining enrollments because those students are transferring en masse to schools located in eastern Chula Vista.

A report done by Paul Woods, Sweetwater’s director of planning and construction, dated September 4, 2014, shows that 85.7% of students attending eastern schools live in the east. That means, 14.3% of students in eastern schools are transfers. Woods found that 4.4% of students transfer to the east under the federally mandated “No Child Left Behind" act. Another 6.3% transfer voluntarily from northwest schools and 3.6% transfer voluntarily from southwest schools.

The full report is essential reading for South Bay residents because from October 6 through November 3, the Sweetwater district— with about 40,000 students — has been holding meetings at five schools to receive input from community members about existing school needs. The data will be used to revise the district’s long-range facility master plan (LRFMA) and the document will help decide where taxpayer dollars are spent.

The first meeting was held on October 6 at Eastlake High School. There, and at each subsequent meeting, Paul Woods gave a presentation explaining that western Chula Vista is essentially built out.

The Bayfront development will consist of high-rises that typically do not generate as many students as single-family homes, Woods said. Eastern Chula Vista, meanwhile, will see a significant increase in population in the next 15 years. In particular, the Millenia Project will construct 17,400 new residential units. From that development, Woods projects eastern Chula Vista will see an extra 3500 high-school and 1500 middle-school students.

The student numbers are actually a bit higher since Baldwin & Sons recently received city approval to construct 600 residential units next to the Otay Ranch Town Center. However, Woods says these numbers are only averages and they change every year.

In an interview, Woods explained, “We generate .0869 middle-school students per resident and .2020 high-school students per resident. I’ve done demographics for a long time and .2 students is very high.”

To meet the need of those incoming students, the district currently owns a 27.18 acre site on Hunte Parkway that was originally intended for a 7–12 campus. At the Eastlake High School meeting, community members said the board should reconsider. They wanted two new school sites rather than one, so seventh graders would not be on the same campus as twelfth graders.

The district has been offered other plots of land, but nothing is finalized. The Village 8 West development, for example, has asked the district to consider their land as another school site.

At meetings in western schools, however, community members were concerned with the dilapidated conditions of their schools. At the Castle Park Middle School meeting on October 20, the principal of Castle Park High School, Viky Mitrovich, said that the ceiling of their band room is caving inward. Other community members stated that students were transferring to the east due to the poor quality of their classroom, gym, cafeteria facilities, and more.

Rubio, however, disputes the claims over massive transfer rates. He explained that California signed the Open Enrollment Act into law in 2010, which allowed students to transfer to other schools with more appealing programs.

“But there were limits to that and I think that’s one of the things I don’t think has been out there that much.” Rubio said. “When the school reached 85 percent of their capacity of what they were built for, or what they were able to handle at the time — I won’t say ‘built for’ because that shifts — then we would stop allowing voluntary transfers. The reason for that was we wanted to make sure that obviously students who lived in their neighborhood had the ability to go to their neighborhood school…. Starting really in 2012, we started capping schools and said, ‘Nope, you can’t voluntarily transfer there.’ We still allow students for very special cases; say for example, we do sibling unification.”

Eastlake Middle, Eastlake High, Olympian High, Otay Ranch High, and Rancho Del Rey Middle have been closed to voluntary transfers since 2012. Sweetwater High and San Ysidro High have been closed to transfers since 2014 and 2015, respectively. Citing Woods’s report, Rubio also added that a surprising number of transfers occur regionally: 19 percent of eastern students transfer to other eastern schools.

Within the east-west debate, two factors continue to arise: school capacity and student enrollment. Both those numbers, however, can be deceiving.

When a school is constructed, the building has a specific capacity. As enrollment increases, portables are erected. Most schools in the Sweetwater district—east and west — have built many portables at some point in their history. When student enrollment is assessed, that number is compared to the previous year, not to the original capacity. If rates decline from one year to the next — even if the school was over capacity in the previous year — the school is considered to have declining enrollment. From a business administration standpoint, the school is losing money. Rubio explains, “The basic funding formula that we get is a per-student enrollment.”

The district hired Jacobs Consultants, which reported that $780 million is needed for modernization. Once the long-range facility master plan is approved by the Sweetwater board in early 2016, the document will be used to determine how Mello Roos, Proposition BB, Proposition O, and state school bonds are spent. The district says they are listening. It could now be up to community voices to impact the next decade of public school education in both the east and west.

Disclaimer: The author currently has two children enrolled in an east-side Sweetwater school.

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Isn't Castle Park at about 50% enrollment, and Eastlake HS at about 100%? And there are currently Eastlake HS football team members that come from West of 805. Why is that?

This reads more like a PR clip than newsworthy piece. What about the high percentage of fake addresses that are being used that seems to have ceremoniously been left out of this story. I moved to the east side for several reasons and my tax bill reflects I pay heavily for that decision and I resent my child's middle school bursting at the seams because of fake addresses and other loopholes? If the story were thorough it would not refer to Jacobs who took the money and ran. Where is reporter Luzzarro can we get her back? SJTorres above has a point, many athletes on east side teams are from west side, they either use a fake address or live with relatives or friends. Sweetwater either doesn't investigate thoroughly or doesn't care.

The old saying that "figures don't lie, but liars can figure" might just be alive and well here. Fake addresses are the oldest way to get a kid into the school of choice when the door would otherwise be closed. "Borrow" the address of a friend or family member, and away you go.

Brand and his enablers on the now disgraced board were constantly scheming to do something that wasn't obvious. The packing of the east side schools was part of the scheme that would require more school building and more money flowing through the district. Once that had happened, he and his fellow crooks could start packing their pockets with ill-gotten proceeds.

I'm not aware of any school district that has a program of address verification. If one does, it operates quietly and with a minimum of fuss. For one thing, where one resides is not a matter of public record. Oh, the owner of a home or parcel is a matter of record, but if challenged, you need only say that you reside at the address as a tenant or under a home-sharing arrangement, and that's the end of the story. So, it is a virtual sure thing that many of the students who show up on the records as residing east of 805 in fact don't live there at all, but are from elsewhere.

Sjtorres & Visduh -- you make important points.

Take a look at these numbers that track Castle Park's history:

The hard-build capacity for Castle Park was suppose to be for about 1,300 students.

Castle Park's student enrollment peaked in 2004-5 with 2,420 students. How was it possible? Portables. The "school capacity" can be misleading because many many more portables can be built. (In Castle Park's case, over 500+ portables were built over its history). In 2004-5, the school was probably "bursting at the seams". Residents probably wanted the student enrollment to decline to more sane levels.

After 2004-5, student enrollment at Castle Park indeed began to decline. This year (2015), the number of students at Castle Park is 1,474 -- which is technically just a little above the original hard-build capacity. Shouldn't Castle Park now be considered a sanely populated school that can provide a high quality education?

That example tells us something: while we quibble over transfer rates and address verification, DEVELOPERS provide as little land as possible, leaving us to create these HUGE schools in the first place. (Eastlake Middle School, for example, was built for 1,480 students -- with a tiny parking lot and a two-lane road. For two grades!)

While unchecked building continues, the focus turns to the new residential areas where schools can get bigger and bigger. (Look at those demographics. The Hunte Parkway property, for example, could end up having an initial hard-build capacity of 3,500 students? And then add more portables? Even without transfers and address verification issues, would you consider that a high quality education?)

Meanwhile, the older schools stand in shocking disrepair. But Castle Park isn't cleared out -- they still have 1,474 students who deserve high quality facilities too.

Would higher quality schools for both the west and the east be possible if developers slowed down?

(My school capacity numbers are coming from reports of the Chula Vista's Growth Management Oversight Commission -- 2008 to 2015. The enrollment rates come from the California Department of Education Data Reporting Office. Records are from 1996-2015.)

Also, keep in mind for transfer rates--that still means 15% transfers are allowed, and therefore the full 15% of transfers are coming to the east. (See pg. 17 of Woods' report.)

For a school like Eastlake High School, which you mention, out of 3,100 currently enrolled students, that means 465 students are transfers.

The notion that a large high school cannot deliver a good education is hard to fathom. Here in my end of the county, the Vista USD had to build a second high school in the late 80's because Vista High was bursting at the seams. It opened Rancho Buena Vista High (RBV) in 1987 on an undersized campus with a designed capacity of 1800. Almost from the start, that didn't handle the demand caused by runaway development, and they were adding portables within a year. Vista High got a breather for a couple years, and then its enrollment started to climb. One year in the early 2000's, RBV had the highest enrollment of any high school in the county at 3400-plus, and Vista High wasn't far behind. One reason for the high enrollment at RBV was students from outside the district wanting to attend, and many using those "fake addresses." So, a big enrollment doesn't mean that a school does a poor job, nor does it mean that cannot fulfill its mission.

We'll never see it, but a regional high school with a student body of over five thousand could do a bang-up job if it were planned for such a size. It's just that there hasn't been one like that anywhere in the state.

Also needs to be pointed out that older facilities doesn't mean they are in disrepair, outdated, etc. Most of the families east of 805 pay a LOT more property tax and Mello-Roos, they should not be force out of their neighborhood school because it is filled with people from miles away.

As far as I can recall, Sweetwater is still trying to reconcile funds that were spent from Mello-Roos sources for schools and various items that are outside the strictures of Mello-Roos stipulations.

So--it would be nice to hear the result of that, and know what will be done with the funds that should have been spent on east side schools in the first place.

Unruly kids from other neighborhoods coming into East campuses and RUINING the class. Yelling at teachers, sassing, threatening teachers, lying to administrators and degrading the schools. Who gets reprimanded? The teachers. WE NEED BETTER ADMINISTRATORS WHO SUPPORT TEACHERS AND DISCIPLINE BAD KIDS.

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