Reasons to create coastal district

Editor’s note: School Trustee John de Beck has proposed forming a coast school district that would incorporate up to nine high schools and their related middle and elementary schools. He explains his plan in answer to questions from the Light.

The plan has provisions for up to nine schools. Besides La Jolla, Mission Bay and Point Loma, it includes Kearny, Clairemont, Madison, University City, Mira Mesa and Scripps Ranch. The decision will be left to a Coastal District Planning Group, which will be convened before we create petitions.

Why are you proposing this?

To eliminate special interest groups’ takeover of the schools every few years. The current school board majority was elected with $200,000 spent on their behalf by special interests. They raised less than $5,000 themselves.

Because the election would be exclusively within high school clusters and hold a one-time election in June, the chances are increased that voters in the cluster would know the person running for office.

In addition, accountability would be increased, since board members now cannot be recalled without getting huge numbers of citywide signatures. In a cluster, the number of signatures would be much lower.

Local control would be enhanced. From an operational standpoint, cluster schools would share a budget and resources like music teachers, counselors, nurses and security personnel. Savings incurred by using county office resources could be applied to school programs. Other ways to save and move money to students would be decided by the new, more responsive board.

How do you get it off the ground?

This initiative requires organizers representing people interested in the idea. Meetings will be held to discuss which schools to include. With a consensus, the petition design and the signature-gathering process will begin. Once 25 percent of the electorate in the proposed district signs the petitions, they will be filed with the county.

The steering committee will submit a plan for the district operation to the county and to the State Board of Education. If approved, the measure will be placed on the ballot to all voters within the boundaries of the new Coastal District. If approved by 51 percent of the voters, negotiations between the new board and San Diego Unified would determine how the property would be split up. When the new board has put operational plans in place, the new district would open.

What steps have been taken?

A draft plan is ready. The public information process is evident. I am willing to speak to any interested group. As to the time it will take to get a Coastal District, that depends on how active supporters become. Without this activity, the process can take years or never happen. If people get active, then I can see this being voted on in 2012.

How will you finance the campaign?

Some folks are ready to write checks. The campaign is not mine, but will be conducted by a steering committee assisted by consultants. I suspect the campaign can be done with as little as $100,000, but it could be much higher.

What is your role?

I view myself as a catalyst. The cause is real, and I am committed to helping for as long as it takes. As to being on the Coastal District board, that would be satisfying, but is not important to me. Ideas about how to run a district are strictly up to the new Coastal District board. They may be even more creative.

Already leaders are emerging, but I do not want to limit leadership to first responders. Once the story is out, I suspect many talented community leaders will want to play a part. Everyone will be welcome to attend the first organizational meeting. I am keeping a list of names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mails so that I can keep them all informed.

What has the response been?

Responses have ranged from “Thank you, it’s about time” to “Give me a petition” and “I need more information.”

The real problem is there are two issues: Do we split, and what would the new district look like? If folks agree with the split, the second issue will be decided by the new board.

I suspect that many folks will want to work in the Coastal District, and I expect to attract even more children to it from throughout San Diego because of the high-quality programs that we will develop.

The law provides that union contracts in place would be honored. The new board would decide how to handle all personnel issues, but I propose that all staff within the new district should have first claim on their jobs and would be able to choose to stay or go.

John De Beck can be reached at