Should Ramona Unified close a school?

By Bob Graeff, Ramona Unified School District Superintendent

(This is the third in a series about fiscal issues related to the Ramona Unified School District. The first appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of the Sentinel and the second in the Nov. 14 issue. They also are on the Sentinel website, www.ramonasentinel.com.)

Following a board action last spring, the school district has received a much-anticipated comprehensive study from a highly regarded property consultant detailing the income potential of five specific district-owned properties. That report is posted on the district website for all to see and was presented to the board earlier this week.

Although it will be the board’s responsibility over the next few months to determine “next steps,” here is what the report says:

The “40 acres” of vacant land just north of Ramona High is thought to be the most valuable income property for the district. Although this property contains more than 17 acres of vernal pools and wetlands, the property as a whole has potential value for the construction of residences and for environmental mitigation. In the current market, the property is estimated to be in the range of $2.2 to $3.2 million.

The Old Ramona Community School site (located on Montecito Road) has very little resale value for a variety of reasons unique to the site. But it does have value in terms of leasing the property. A portion of the facility is currently leased to the North Inland Special Education Region Special Education Local Plan Area (NISER SELPA) while another potential tenant has recently expressed interest with the District, as well.

Behind Hanson Elementary School are 32 acres of raw land south of the campus. According to the study, this land could be subdivided and marketed for residential construction and has a potential value of $786,000 to the district.

The vacant property in the San Diego Country Estates located on Bellemore Street consists of five undeveloped acres. Although this property may have use to the district for FFA or other school purposes, it has very little commercial value at the present time.

Finally, the study reviewed the potential value of the five square blocks of property stretching along Ninth Street from Ramona Elementary to the Pop Warner football field, including the District Office, Montecito High School, Head Start, and the bus yard.

In detailed fashion, the study values this entire property potentially at $1.5 million — but cites the very real challenges of transporting the current student population at RE to other schools and the additional costs of relocating the large amount of administrative services to another location. The study estimates the one-time cost of purchasing additional school buses for the displaced RE students at $700,000 and the annual cost of operating the buses at $350,000.

Although no estimates are provided to relocate the current administrative services, the bus yard, and Montecito High to other locations, the author of the study concludes that “these costs would offset the projected savings in closing or repurposing” the RE site. In other words, a closure of our oldest school site at this time is not recommended.

The board’s highest priority this year is to improve both short-term and long-term fiscal health. With this study in hand, the recent experience of running a bond campaign, the preview of the next state budget this January, and significant long-term debt, the board is now equipped to take decisive steps to improve the district’s financial position. Public input is always welcome!

Related posts:

  1. What steps has Ramona Unified taken to dispose of excess property?
  2. Ramona Unified school schedules and office hours
  3. Ramona Unified Back to School Night schedule
  4. Carol Canfield: Ramona Unified Teacher of the Year
  5. A Modest Proposal for Ramona Unified School District & the Citizens of Ramona

Short URL: http://www.ramonasentinel.com/?p=29011

Posted by Maureen Robertson on Nov 19 2013. Filed under Commentary, Featured Story, Schools. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Comments for “Should Ramona Unified close a school?”

  1. Guest

    I guess I shouldn't be surpised that this article completely misses the boat. The idea in closing a school isn't necessarily for the purpose of selling off the land and collecting the cash. I find it impossible to believe that there are not substantial and sustainable operational savings possible in consolidating unnecessary school sites. I go back to this statistic yet again: 21% reduction in ADA. That reduction strongly suggests that there is an opportunity to continue to serve students with 21% fewer sites. Significant and ongoing savings would come from the avoided administrative and incremental facilities costs made possible through consolidation. What this does not mean, and likely what RUSD will attempt to do, is simply reassigning the administrative staff from a closed site to the remaining sites.

    I have found Dr. Graeff's three articles to be very disappointing and an indication the district is in dire need of somebody who is willing to seriously consider operational efficiencies as a solution to the district's financial difficulties. These articles still feel like nothing more than propoganda to soften up the voters for yet another bond initiative.

  2. Property owner

    Guest – I also want to believe that consolidating schools will save a lot of money. The one thing I didn't see addressed in this study was whether closing a school OTHER than Ramona Elementary would provide cost savings. If you believe that this consulting firm is credible, and for now I will do so, then closing RE will actually cost more than keeping it open because of the transporation issue. I think those of us from the business community would be incorrect to argue that the district must follow what would be done in private industry. The district can't just close a school and tell all the students to drive to another school. By law, 475 students would have to be bussed somewhere else. Yes, they can sell the extra next to behind Hansen Elementary and try to lease what they can, and they should. Page 32 discusses a facilities management program – I want to see that implemented.

    In all, Guest, your tone strikes me as someone who is going to distrust the district no matter what they do. I see others with the same and I share the outrage of past mistakes, but it doesn't solve the problem. If they actually do carry out any of these recommendations and still don't have enough to pay off "the loan", are you still going to slam them, vote against a bond, and laugh as the district go bankrupt? What will you think then, when you see your property values fall and the educational quality of this district suffer?

    • Guest

      My tone comes from many years of seeing the same thing over and over again from the district. IF, and I don't believe for a moment that they'd do it, the district truly initiates real and significant cost cutting measures, then I would support a bond to help get the district back on track. That has been my point all along: show us SOMETHING. All I've seen so far is proposal after proposal to raise our taxes without any serious operational savings.

      And, I completely disagree with you regarding the findings of the consulting firm. I have dealt with consulting firms for the past 30 years and what I know all about them. Dont confuse consulting with auditing firms. Consultants will give the answer they are led to give. It is ludicrous to believe it would cost more to close RE. Besides, the whole RE mess is the district's making in the first place. Want a real life example of consultants giving the answer they are led to? How about building Hanson when the need was clearly on the east end of town? I was there. I saw the district administration lead the consultants and the "community partners" down the path they had predetermined. Based on that experience, why would anybody be foolish enough to trust them until we see something different?

    • RUSD Mole

      By law students have to be bussed? The law must have changed since I went to school. Growing up in San Diego, nobody bussed me anywhere. Can you cite the law or is this just anecdotal? Besides, from my recollection, RUSD has budgeted a loss of $800K in transportation. Are you saying the loss would then be in excess of that $800K if kids from RE had to be bussed elsewhere? What, are they going have to buy more busses or something?

  3. Big Daddy

    Busing is not mandatory. How about this? Close RE and put the land up for sale or lease. Make the RCS/MVA campus (which is one mile away) on Hanson Lane the new RE. Make Hanson Elementary the new RCS/MVA. Redistribute the current Hanson students to either Mt. Woodson or the new RE. The Administration? Well, they do need a place to work, so maybe we keep that property and make some repairs. And we will still need to pay off the loan to keep the district from going bankrupt, so maybe we pass a modest bond. If this community wants attractive, upgraded schools like other districts, well, we'll add some bond money for that, too, because the state is NEVER EVER going to give any district enough money to keep schools well maintained and upgraded, But if Ramonans want their schools to look like dumps forever, then we don't bond any more then the loan amount. Simple choices. Problems solved. Wasn't that easy?

    • Guest

      Big Daddy, thank you for saying what has needed to be said for a long time. YES, close RE. The place is falling down. It is a disaster. For the second time in the past 6 or 7 years the school has not met state requirements and the district is forced to allow kids to attend other schools in the district. RE should have been fixed years ago when there was money to do so, but instead RUSD was intent on building the new Hanson Elementary in the dairy field.

      The only thing I would suggest differently is to close RCS/MVA. Those are a nice to have, but they are a niche and we cannot afford to divert our limited resources there any longer. Close RCS/MVA and have those students integrate to the remaining schools throughout the district. Close RE and move the RE students to the RCS campus. Done. It's that easy. I'm sure the district will come up with a bunch of reasons why that won't work because they'd rather tax us instead.

  4. guest

    In California, there is no law that requires public schools to provide transportation. Other states have such requirements, but not in California. On that topic, I'd love to see the cost breakdown of how much the RUSD brings in from school bus fees vs transportation costs. Right now, the fee per child to use a Ramona school bus is $50 a month, per student!

    • Dennis

      Actually, the district is required to bus RE students to one of the SDCE campuses, at the parents' request. http://www.ramonausd.net/cms/lib07/CA01000789/Cen...

      • Guest

        Actually, your link makes my point. The district is required to bus any student from RE to another district campus of their choice because RE failed to meet the "No Child Left Behind" standards. It says nothing about having to bus students in general; only students enrolled in schools that failed to meet the standards two years in a row.

        • Dennis

          I didn't try to challenge your point, but with respect to transportation expenses if RE were closed, the district already has an obligation to bus anyone who requests it.

  5. Guest2013

    Absolutely! Let's see the comparison chart on revenue versus expenditures in the Ramona Transportation Department! Dr. Graef? Anyone? Hello??

  6. Nope

    How much money did we waste on this consulting firm and where did they get the data that led them to the desired opinion?

  7. Jane Tanaka MD

    The task of the consulting firm was not to look at the cost savings of closing Ramona Elementary or to evaluate transportation costs or the cost of relocating students, or of finding another site for the administration offices.. It was to evaluate what could be done, and how much money could be made with RE and the old Ramona Community School, and the vacant land near RHS, and the 5 acres, and administrative buildings if there were to be put on the market.
    Unless a survey is done of the families of students at Ramona Elementary, we would not know how many of them would need bus transportation to attend either Hanson Elementary or another local school. Thus we do not know that $700,000 would be needed in new buses, and that over $300,000 per year would be needed to transport these students.

  8. Jane Tanaka MD

    Also what are the wishes of the families and kids who attend RE? To travel further to a newer nicer school campus with more students, or to keep RE open? If they want to keep RE open, would parents/families of kids at RE form their own group to work on deferred maintenance projects?
    The study did not publish the yearly expense of running RE. (It was not part of the goal of the study either.) Suggest that RUSD make this available to the public also and that we send an SOS signal to the RAMONA PARENTS COALITION.

  9. Jane Tanaka MD

    Michael Lytton, a LEED AP consultant in SD has written an article about cost of closing a school: http://www.oecd.org/edu/innovation-education/cent... .

    One district in California which projected $700,000 in savings by closing a school lost $2.4 million dollars.

    Also in Chicago, were 54 schools were closed to cut costs, the effected neighborhoods were outraged because the school district has overstated projectedcost savings by double or more,to gain support from the rest of the city.

    A study specifically on the potential closure of Ramona Elementary should be done, rather counting on either the guestimates of the firm hired by RUSD, or on the figures gathered by Dr Rajcic et al.

  10. Guest

    This district is one hot mess

  11. P.M. Ketchem

    The headline of this article pretty much sums up the problem. A greater then 20% reduction in ADA and the headline/question is 'Should Ramona Unified close a school'? Well, Duh. Hello – anybody home?

    In my mind the real question is which one.

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