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YORBA LINDA : Schools Chief Fires Back in Growth Spat


After months of criticism from the City Council, Supt. James O. Fleming of the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District has fired his own salvo in the battle over a second high school for the city.

In a three-page letter released earlier this month, Fleming disputed several claims made by the City Council and defended the district's position that enrollment and population projections do not justify building another high school in Yorba Linda.

The council, led by Mayor John M. Gullixson, maintains that future development will create a demand for an additional high school. Already, the council claims, Esperanza High School, which the majority of Yorba Linda high school students attend, is too large and overcrowded.

"It is obvious that some City Council members had misinformation regarding a number of issues related to planning and the size of Esperanza High School," Fleming wrote.

At a joint meeting with the school district in February, city planners estimated that a maximum of about 4,600 homes would be built in the city by the year 2020, generating about 4,695 more students in grades kindergarten through 12. Based on those figures, the City Council claims that several more schools will need to be built.

According to Fleming, however, a study commissioned by the district indicates that future development will generate only 2,650 students over a 27-year period. Furthermore, since more than 60% of the new homes would be built on property the city has yet to annex and no building permits have been issued for any of the homes, the figures are tenuous at best, he said.

"As you can see, until actual development starts, it is difficult to project student housing based on a 27-year build-out period," Fleming wrote.

Gullixson claims that with an enrollment of about 2,400, students at Esperanza have a hard time competing for spots on athletic teams and other extracurricular activities. Several council members said they have heard complaints from parents and students that classes are too crowded, with up to 45 students in some classes.

In his letter, Fleming said average class size at the district's three high schools ranges from 31 to 32.5. The maximum class size allowed in the district's contract with its teachers' union is 38.

In his letter, Fleming also addressed the cost of building and maintaining a new high school.

"In order to open a new high school, we would also have increased cost . . . of approximately $1.5 million a year for operation," he wrote. "It would be necessary to go to the community for approval of a bond for approximately $50 million, which would increase your taxes for an extended period of time . . . on average $250 to $300 a year in additional taxes."

Fleming's letter is in response to repeated attacks on the district by the council.

Last month, the council passed a resolution, written by Gullixson, that accused the district of planning to bus Yorba Linda students to schools in other cities, rather than build new schools.

At the February joint meeting between the school board and the council, council members repeatedly questioned the district's enrollment projections and accused the district of poor planning.

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