Education Matters: County hearing on San Dieguito maps was first of three


The San Dieguito Union High School District offices in Encinitas. (Google Street View photo)

Marsha Sutton

First, an update: San Dieguito Union High School District Trustee Melisse Mossy just announced her resignation from the Board of Education. “It was a very difficult decision, and I am extremely sad over the events that led to this,” she told me in a message. “I will never stop caring about, advocating for, or bragging about our students and our staff. I am so very proud to have worked alongside of them.”

Many speakers at the April 6 hearing held by the San Diego County Office of Education at the San Dieguito Union High School District office were Solana Beach residents who strongly objected to Map 8, the controversial redistricting map selected by the San Dieguito board last month.

Education Matters by Marsha SuttonLisa Montes, of Solana Beach’s La Colonia de Eden Gardens community, opposed Map 8 for dividing the community and thanked the county board for taking over the map process. Past comments by Montes addressed Map 8’s marginalization of the LatinX community that deprives residents of their voice.

Map 8, among its many alleged defects, is said to violate the primary purpose of the CVRA, which is to promote political representation of diverse communities, by disenfranchising the Solana Beach LatinX community of La Colonia de Eden Gardens.

Kelly Harless, a Solana Beach City Council member who spoke as a Solana Beach resident, said a new map should preserve feeder district continuity.

Ying Yang of Carmel Valley said she didn’t want the Asian community’s voice diluted.

Perhaps the most understated comment was made by Rita Soza, a 39-year resident of Encinitas, who quietly asked the county board for a minor adjustment to the existing map and “use the light touch to create (a) new map.”

Others criticized the San Dieguito board for playing partisan politics with the Map 8 configuration.

In what appeared to be a happy reunion of sorts, several former San Dieguito board members came to the hearing to reaffirm the appropriateness of the existing “cranberry” map, which was approved five years ago when SDUHSD was required to create sub-district voting areas.

Amy Herman, a 27-year resident of Carmel Valley who served on the SDUHSD board in 2017 when the cranberry map was approved, said Map 8 splits up communities, changes election cycles, and is not a minor adjustment.

Beth Hergesheimer, a longtime San Dieguito board member who served when the cranberry map was approved, asked county board members to adjust the map with the least transition for residents.

Dee Rich, who served on the San Dieguito board from 1986 to 2016, said feeder districts should stay together, the cranberry map worked, and seats on school boards should be nonpartisan.

All rhetoric aside, when those three board members served, the union controlled the board with an iron grip.

Theoretically, school board members are supposed to be nonpartisan, but no one believes that’s true anymore, when teachers unions contribute heavily to the coffers of school board candidates who meet union criteria.

Different perspective

Only one of the 23 speakers at the April 6 hearing offered a differing perspective.

“You have not made a case that you have the right to step in here,” Allison Stratton said to the county board.

“SDUHSD has duly elected trustees, the majority of whom voted for Map 8. The process to choose this map was legal, the map itself is legal, and the map was turned in to you on time.”

She called the transfer to the county politically motivated and said to county board members, “It’s also no secret that you collectively have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from teachers unions for your own campaigns.”

Bruce Kesler, in a letter to county board members, made similar comments, writing, “Disallowing the district boundaries chosen by the majority of the SDUHSD board is primarily due to the faculty union’s continued and funded drive to retake control of the board.”

He cited past union control of the SDUHSD board and wrote that the board majority is focused on students’ best interests for a change — “contrary to the former union majority serving the union’s interests first and the proper emphasis on students’ interests being neglected.”

In a follow-up letter to the county, Kesler wrote, “In short, your approach to the SDUHSD district boundaries is highly suspect, at best, and actually purposely and highly prejudicial to the interests of the SDUHSD students and residents of SDUHSD.”

Addressing county board members, he said the county’s action “not only smacks of gross political and union partisanship but invites continual legal battles, which may include legal and other investigative discovery of each of your communications and possible liabilities.”

San Dieguito Superintendent Cheryl James-Ward was present at the April 6 hearing, but only two board members, Julie Bronstein and Katrina Young, attended.

Both Bronstein and Young have been vocal about their opposition to Map 8, and both board members had advocated for the county Office of Education to step in to resolve the issue.

San Dieguito, however, is not rolling over and blindly accepting the county’s intervention.

An April 6 letter from San Dieguito’s James-Ward challenged the county’s right to take over the map process, writing to county Superintendent of Schools Paul Gothold that the Office of Education overstepped its authority, justified the takeover based on inaccurate information, and was not transparent in its procedures. (See Part One of this column.)

The county has prepared three map options (see But with James-Ward’s April 6 letter raising objections to the county’s interference — and with litigation still proceeding — all kinds of outcomes are now in play.

Pick your battles

It’s true that the teachers union has controlled the SDUHSD board for decades. Unions exist to lobby for their members — and students, sadly, are not members.

Sometimes those interests coincide, but often they do not.

Districts are finding themselves in financial distress because of labor demands for increased salary and benefits, while districts beg parents for donations to buy basic supplies such as science equipment, books and musical instruments.

Nevertheless, if San Dieguito’s board majority thought they could cram through this bizarre Map 8 without serious pushback, they were delusional.

Said county board member Gregg Robinson at the April 6 hearing, “It’s tragic that it’s come to this point.”

San Dieguito board minority members Young and Bronstein will emerge from this smelling like roses. The map mess is a gift for them.

But when the school board needs to address its next upcoming fiscal crisis, voters should keep in mind that both trustees are supported by the SDUHSD teachers union.

With this map fiasco, SDUHSD board members who fought the union to keep schools open during the pandemic may have just squandered away much of the good will they once had.

The unfortunate byproduct of this misstep is that the community sympathy garnered for the union perspective on the maps may carry over into pressing, and potentially catastrophic, budgetary issues.

Choosing a redistricting map that violates reasonable expectations for fairness was the wrong tactic to attempt to diffuse union control. As any parent knows, you pick your battles carefully.

Marsha Sutton is a local education journalist and opinion columnist and can be reached at suttonmarsha[at]

Columns represent the views of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the North Coast Current’s ownership or management.

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