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.”