Generally unbridled growth in Escondido has overtaken the capacity of local elementary schools, sending officials scrambling for ways to handle the student overflow without putting them on double sessions.
The two most apparent options are to put at least 24 portable classrooms on district campuses when classes begin next fall, or to order two or more schools on year-round sessions beginning as early as July.
The overcrowding will continue to worsen into the year 2000, the district projects, with the number of incoming students far outstripping the district's ability to build new schools.
The problem has frustrated parents who have vented their anger both at the Escondido Union School District, for not having better prepared for the overcrowding, and with the Escondido City Council, for permitting the growth to occur in the first place.
The overcrowding is adding momentum to a wave of slow-growth activism in the city, helping to fuel a referendum petition drive now under way. The drive is aimed at forcing a special citywide election to overturn last month's council decision to rezone a rural neighborhood for a 256-unit apartment complex--a decision that slow-growth advocates say is indicative of the council majority's support of growth and a mentality that more and bigger is better.
For their part, some members of the Escondido City Council say they can't be held responsible for the school's plight while other council members say the city can and should be held accountable. Councilman Jerry Harmon went so far as to suggest that the city should pay to build a new elementary school to help relieve the problem created by the city.
The school board, which already has held public workshops at two of the most affected schools in Escondido, will meet Monday at 5 p.m. to study the matter and then may decide at its regular 7:30 p.m. meeting Monday how best to resolve the overcrowding, at least for next year.
"There are no solutions to this problem that will be palatable to the majority of the people," said school board President Sid Hollins. "This is one of the most difficult problems this district has faced."
The overcrowding, Hollins said, was brought on by a combination of factors, including:
- The passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 which eliminated the simple majority approval of school construction bond issues. Now, a much harder-to-obtain two-thirds majority vote is necessary.
- The state has failed to set aside sufficient money to help local school districts pay for new school construction.
- Development impact fees assessed by the Escondido City Council were insufficient to help pay for the schools necessary to house the influx of new students generated by those developments. Local developer impact fees were only a third or a half of those charged by other cities, officials note.
- New state law has now put a capacity on those development impact fees; the new assessments fall far short of meeting the expenses of building new schools.
Said Hollins: "We have a pro-growth City Council and have had for many, many years. Escondido is bursting at the seams with new homes and apartments, and the City Council hasn't allowed the district, when it had the chance, to increase the development fees the way they should have been to help pay their own way."
The district owns several sites in Escondido on which to build new schools but has inadequate funds to begin construction. And the district is having trouble setting aside construction funds for schools because it must spend that money on temporary, portable classrooms to handle the immediate problem of overcrowding, district officials note. Already, more than 1,200 students in the district--more than 10% of the district's student population--are assigned to portable classrooms.
"We're hoping the Good Fairy will drop $50 million on us," Hollins said.
Among the options faced by the school board:
- Convert Central and Miller elementary schools, maybe more, to a year-round schedule with students on one of five different "tracks," or mini-schools. At any given time during the year, four tracks are in session and one track is on a short vacation. All students would be on a three-week vacation in July.
Year-round scheduling provides a more optimum use of school facilities but wreaks havoc on arranging for day care, summer enrichment and recreation programs and family vacation planning--especially among families with children in high schools, which follow the traditional school year and are governed by a different district.
Education experts say year-round schools may be educationally advantageous for some students, but the schedule is difficult on teachers because they are assigned to different classrooms each time they return to campus and because there are more combination, or mixed-grade, classes.