Sweetwater school district resolves boundary issue

Eight-month fight concludes in victory for students

Sweetwater Union High School District trustees voted unanimously to allow students to choose their preferred campus.
  • Sweetwater Union High School District trustees voted unanimously to allow students to choose their preferred campus.

For years, schools in the Sweetwater Union High School District have either been severely impacted or under-enrolled. To address the issue, the district held five "Long Range Facility Master Plan" meetings in 2015 and invited district parents to give input on facility repairs and attendance boundaries.

By January 2016, trustees approved new boundaries for the entire district. Within a month, parents living in the eastern Chula Vista neighborhoods of San Miguel Ranch, Eastlake Shores, Eastlake Hills, and St. Claire received letters from the district saying their children would no longer be able to attend Eastlake Middle School or Eastlake High School. Instead, they would attend Bonita Vista Middle or Bonita Vista High School.

Outrage ensued. Parents said they bought homes in these communities so their children could attend Eastlake Middle School or Eastlake High School. Residents with children still enrolled in the Chula Vista Elementary School District said they never received information concerning the meetings and were not engaged in the decision-making process.

Victor Ibarra, a realtor, resident of Chula Vista, and father of three, contacted the Pacific Southwest Association of Realtors and the San Diego Association of Realtors, which wrote letters to the district expressing concern that property values would go down.

“We paid Mello Roos taxes to build these schools," said Ibarra. "Our group doesn’t have anything against Bonita. Overall, academic-wise they’re a good school, but it’s just an older school. Their facilities are more run-down. I hate to say it, but they are. Eastlake is a good performing school academically and the installations are a little bit better overall. Plus, we paid. Our communities paid to build those schools, so to take that away from us, we felt we were disenfranchised.”

All four schools have an 8 rating at GreatSchools.org, but U.S. News SUHSD High School Rankings for 2016 placed Eastlake High School at #209 and Bonita Vista High School at #366. What’s more, Eastlake High (built 1992) and Eastlake Middle (2003) are significantly newer buildings than Bonita Vista High (1966) and Bonita Vista Middle (1968).

Residents gathered signatures for online petitions. The homeowners' associations sent letters of protest to the district.

Audra Lacey, posted on Nexdoor.com (where residents conducted much of their community organizing work) March 15th that district representatives came to Eastlake Elementary and said "if we live in a CFD/mello-roos area, then we will have priority consideration to transfer into [Eastlake Middle] AND [Eastlake High] with 99% certainty of getting in."

However, when resident Chris Gavino filled out the transfer paperwork for his eighth-grader, he received a rejection letter in the mail.

Residents then contacted trustee Frank Tarantino for help. He attended community meetings on October 14th at Eastlake Elementary and October 17th at Liberty Elementary. There, parents were assured the issue of attendance boundaries would be re-opened as an agenda item.

But concerns continued. In an email, Chris Gavino wrote, “From board meetings, held in JUL/AUG which led to the recent 2% increase in Mello Roos there maybe at least one Board member voting 'No,' based on her attitude towards the use of CFD communities to fund not only CFD-schools, but the whole district.”

On October 24th residents attended the SUHSD Board Meeting at Hilltop High School, still unsure how trustees would vote.

During public comments, Chris Gavino — with his daughter now a freshman at Eastlake High — said, “Myself and my wife had to wipe tears away from our daughter when the initial decision came out, when she found out in February. And likewise when we received the initial rejection when we filled out inter-district transfer paperwork. So I hope your decision today spares any future parents of any emotional distress that we went through over this past year.”

Then, the the district board unanimously voted for the four neighborhoods to become optional; students will now be able to choose either school. The audience applauded once the motion passed.

“I think in the past, maybe the concerns of the community would have fallen on deaf ears, but we are no longer that organization," said Tarantino. "We are an organization that goes above and beyond to outreach to the community.”

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader


I"ll quibble with the headline here. This board vote may be a victory for some students, actually for some parents, but not all students in SUHSD. And some others may see it as a loss.

One thing that jumps out is the comparison of the Eastlake schools with those in Bonita Vista. They are newer, and one of the parents says that the Bonita schools are "more run down." Didn't that district have two bond issues that raised a huge amount of money to bring ALL the schools up to standard? Now we hear that they're not anything like that.

This vote would seem to be the sort of thing that the new SUHSD board should be doing. After years of mismanagement and dysfunction by the now-convicted crooks who were on the board, this board has its work cut out for it. Just undoing bad policies that were put in place in earlier years may require some Solomonic decisions and votes.

I'm glad to see some reporting in the Reader from So County. For some months now there has been no news coming out of that area, and I doubt that everything there is lovely. Let's see more such reporting.

The principal at Bonita Middle allows students to steal from teachers and from each other. There is no discipline for bully students there. That principal is abusive to teachers and will not support their classroom discipline. Bonita Vista Middle is losing good teachers because of an anti-teacher principal. When will SWEETWATER UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT start supporting their veteran teachers? The corruption continues until the abusive principals get weeded out. Not a good place for the kids when teacher gets put on administrative leave for telling students it is wrong to steal. SUHSD needs to take care of this now.

It would have been a good idea to have instituted some official policies regarding changing the "institutional culture" within Sweetwater when Ed Brand left for the second time. I think there needs to be some retraining of administration, so that policies are ethical, make sense, and follow the law. We have wanted to get the Mello-Roos funds straightened out for quite some time.

There still needs to be a forensic audit--because while it was claimed that there was an effort to straighten things out, I haven't heard anything more about it. Decades of fiscal abuse and no one is responsible?

I know there are many good people at work in Sweetwater, so there is really NO EXCUSE for the wrong-headed decision-making that still takes place. Who in their right mind would think that people who have been paying hundreds of dollars per year (some more than that) would think it would be ok to send their children to schools that were not the ones they had paid for?

And Visduh, you raise some excellent points. About those previous bond issues: the Bond Oversight Committee has worked very hard to find out how and where the money is being spent, and they are still not getting 100% cooperation. Why is that? Lots of change orders, I have heard. Just who is in charge?

Which is why I say, vote no on any bond issues for education until there are measures in place to track where every dime goes. The public should be able to see a monthly tally of Mello-Roos funds, and all bond funds collected and used. This should not be a big mystery.

Who is benefitting? Bonita Vista High School had rats in the gymnasium a couple of years ago, so I was told. The decision-making on how the construction funds are spent just does not look like it has been done in the best manner for the school district and the students.

We need to find out where the money went before we are going to pony up one more time.

So yes, 99% of the kids who want to go to the schools their parents paid for will get to go to them. Not good enough. This is shameful.

Eastlaker, it is good to see you commenting. After the guilty pleas by four of the Sweetwater trustees and one ex-superintendent, too many voters likely went back to sleep. What had not happened was a top-to-bottom cleaning of the district administration. After all those years of Trujillo/Gandara/Brand mismanagement, the corruption was likely deeply embedded at the district office.

Sweetwater pointed up the weaknesses of the new law that allows bond issues to pass with a 55% approval rate. That bond oversight feature of the law was put there to reassure voters that funds so generated would be spent carefully. But we now know that just having a committee guarantees nothing. When a district wants to ignore the committee it can and there are no consequences.

So, I fully agree with your idea that no more school bonds be approved--and I'd make that a statewide recommendation--until there is assurance that the money will be spent properly, and only after old money has been accounted for.

Log in to comment

Skip Ad

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader