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High Tech High to take over Horizon Christian Academy Clairemont site

Horizon parents worry, but San Diego Unified needs the money.

Horizon field. High Tech High doesn't have a football team, so the field will likely be redrawn for lacrosse and soccer.
Horizon field. High Tech High doesn't have a football team, so the field will likely be redrawn for lacrosse and soccer.

Time is running out for Horizon Christian Academy. The K-12 private school that has called 5331 Mt. Alifan Drive home since 1985 has until the end of June to relocate. High Tech High, a K-12 public charter school purchased the property from the San Diego Unified School District in March 2014 for $22.4 million.

Dooley at March 8 meeting. He told a Horizon parent that High Tech High’s CEO visited Horizon’s pastor and offered to not bid if they were going to.

As a private school, Horizon charges tuition. As a public charter school, High Tech High does not.

Prior to Horizon, Hale Junior High occupied the site starting in 1959. High Tech High opened up their original campus in Liberty Station (Point Loma) in 1999. They also have campuses in Chula Vista and San Marcos.

According to Paul Dooley, High Tech High facilities director, the purchase was all cash via a benefactor. No word on who that benefactor was, but interesting to note heavy hitter Bill Gates has given them millions in the past.

High Tech High campus at Liberty Station. Bill Gates has given them millions in the past.

Kimberley Coulson is the parent of a middle-school student at Horizon. She also lives near the school. “By [High Tech] bidding on a school that is and has been operating for as long as Horizon has is irresponsible and arrogant.”

“Horizon will disappear because we don’t have the funds to find another location. We aren't privy to a loan from the state. We aren’t funded by wealthy private businesses, many of whom want to proliferate their own technological self-interest.”

“So many people want to criticize a Christian school. However, when catastrophic events happen to people personally or societally, if a child goes missing in a family of a non believer, the first thing that parent is doing is praying to God — not The Gates Foundation nor Google — for the safe return of their child.”

Dooley was confronted by another upset Horizon parent at the March 8 Clairemont planning subcommittee meeting. Mary Simpson spoke passionately about the plight of Horizon students and how it seemed to be too much about the money and too little about the children.

Dooley explained to Simpson that Horizon had the chance to negotiate with the school district before it went out to public bid. He said that High Tech High’s CEO visited Horizon’s pastor and offered to not bid if they were going to. According to Dooley, the pastor said he had no plans to bid and even said: “we’re praying that you get it.”

According to the school district, when they officially decided to sell the property in March 2013, they entered into negotiations with Horizon. When nothing came of it, they put out a public bid in October 2013. The highest bid was $23.52 million from a housing developer. When that fell through, it went to the second highest bidder, High Tech High.

Per 2014 school district documentation, the property was declared in excess back in 1984. The document lists other school properties including another former Horizon school site (4520 Pocahontas) that was also sold in 2014, this time to housing developers for $13.2 million.

Dooley continued to explain to Simpson that when High Tech High was offered the chance to buy the school, they again went to Horizon’s pastor and again got his blessing. He pointed out that they reduced Horizon’s rent by $4 million to help them in finding a new location. According to school district documentation, Horizon paid the school district approximately $1.5 million annually.

Dooley brought his point home by saying, “A lot of time has gone by and quite frankly we’ve bent over backwards to help. Horizon went into this negotiation and signed the deal. We didn’t have a gun to their head, they had their eyes wide open, and I’m sorry that time has run out but that’s where we are.”

Michelle Washburn is the parent of children that have attended both Horizon and High Tech High. She said while she is heartbroken that Horizon is pretty much defunct, all three of her children currently attending High Tech High love it.

High Tech High has started the city permitting process. A public notice went out in March with a public hearing notice to follow.

Per Dooley, the plan is to refurbish eight of the ten existing buildings. He said while they look nice on the outside, “inside they are very 1959.” The elementary and middle schools will go into existing structures while the kitchen/cafeteria and locker room buildings will be demolished and replaced with a two-story building for the high school. Dooley confirmed nothing taller than what is there now will go in.

The existing football field will be turned 90 degrees to allow students to use the field without crossing the parking lot. Dooley said that they don’t have a football team, so the field will likely be redrawn for lacrosse and soccer. There are no plans to rent out the field to the public.

Dooley said the field reconfiguration will allow for a longer drop-off area for parents. To avoid congestion, start and stop times will be staggered for different grades. Per Dooley, the city requires 210 parking spaces, but they plan to provide 385. He said this should be more than enough parking on a daily basis. The only time there might be spillover is on those nights when they have events to show projects.

The school has a hands-on educational approach that has students learning by doing projects. Dooley also touted the benefit of them not using bells or buzzers like other schools.

There will be changes surrounding the school property. Dooley said that Mt. Alifan will be widened by seven to ten feet to allow for a bike lane. The city is requiring additional traffic signals.

Dooley said the most unique aspect of the new campus will be the existing theater and athletic field since other campuses don’t have these amenities.

The budget is approximately $45 million. Dooley said funding from Prop 51 will be sought. Bonds are on the table if the latter falls through.

The principal of Horizon, Cathy Dobbs, said Horizon isn’t doing interviews at this time. When I spoke to Dobbs in October, she told me that a realtor had been searching for a new location for three years. She said the zoning was making it hard to find a new home.

Dooley said they inherited Horizon’s lease when they purchased the property. He explained the lease was for 25 years starting in 2007 but had an early termination clause. Per Dooley, High Tech High and Horizon agreed to accelerate the termination date to June 30, 2017.

In early April, someone dropped flyers at nearby residences protesting High Tech High moving into the neighborhood. After receiving the flyer, Coulson urged others to send a protest email to Councilmember Chris Cate.

A nearby resident that also got the flyer said, “They should have garnered support years ago instead of this late in the game. I feel for the kids, but c’mon it’s just a little ridiculous to blame High Tech High for having the money that Horizon doesn’t. If you want to blame someone, blame the school district for having money problems. Blame them for not having better schools so that charter schools are needed.”

Dooley said construction will begin a year from now and the school will open in August 2019. While the permit application lists 1632 students, Dooley said reality will be closer to 1250. The numbers break down to 475/elementary, 300/middle school, and 450/high school. He said the application period will start in late-2018 with more information forthcoming on their website in July 2017.

Coulson has real concerns about the possibility of 1600 students in her neighborhood. While Horizon states they have near 700 students on their Facebook page, Dooley said Horizon had 1150 to 1200 in their heyday.

Will Horizon students be given any sort of priority? Dooley said they aren’t allowed to give preference to any particular groups, expect for free and reduced lunch qualifiers and siblings. “Horizon students will be accepted into the lottery just like any other residents.”

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Horizon field. High Tech High doesn't have a football team, so the field will likely be redrawn for lacrosse and soccer.
Horizon field. High Tech High doesn't have a football team, so the field will likely be redrawn for lacrosse and soccer.

Time is running out for Horizon Christian Academy. The K-12 private school that has called 5331 Mt. Alifan Drive home since 1985 has until the end of June to relocate. High Tech High, a K-12 public charter school purchased the property from the San Diego Unified School District in March 2014 for $22.4 million.

Dooley at March 8 meeting. He told a Horizon parent that High Tech High’s CEO visited Horizon’s pastor and offered to not bid if they were going to.

As a private school, Horizon charges tuition. As a public charter school, High Tech High does not.

Prior to Horizon, Hale Junior High occupied the site starting in 1959. High Tech High opened up their original campus in Liberty Station (Point Loma) in 1999. They also have campuses in Chula Vista and San Marcos.

According to Paul Dooley, High Tech High facilities director, the purchase was all cash via a benefactor. No word on who that benefactor was, but interesting to note heavy hitter Bill Gates has given them millions in the past.

High Tech High campus at Liberty Station. Bill Gates has given them millions in the past.

Kimberley Coulson is the parent of a middle-school student at Horizon. She also lives near the school. “By [High Tech] bidding on a school that is and has been operating for as long as Horizon has is irresponsible and arrogant.”

“Horizon will disappear because we don’t have the funds to find another location. We aren't privy to a loan from the state. We aren’t funded by wealthy private businesses, many of whom want to proliferate their own technological self-interest.”

“So many people want to criticize a Christian school. However, when catastrophic events happen to people personally or societally, if a child goes missing in a family of a non believer, the first thing that parent is doing is praying to God — not The Gates Foundation nor Google — for the safe return of their child.”

Dooley was confronted by another upset Horizon parent at the March 8 Clairemont planning subcommittee meeting. Mary Simpson spoke passionately about the plight of Horizon students and how it seemed to be too much about the money and too little about the children.

Dooley explained to Simpson that Horizon had the chance to negotiate with the school district before it went out to public bid. He said that High Tech High’s CEO visited Horizon’s pastor and offered to not bid if they were going to. According to Dooley, the pastor said he had no plans to bid and even said: “we’re praying that you get it.”

According to the school district, when they officially decided to sell the property in March 2013, they entered into negotiations with Horizon. When nothing came of it, they put out a public bid in October 2013. The highest bid was $23.52 million from a housing developer. When that fell through, it went to the second highest bidder, High Tech High.

Per 2014 school district documentation, the property was declared in excess back in 1984. The document lists other school properties including another former Horizon school site (4520 Pocahontas) that was also sold in 2014, this time to housing developers for $13.2 million.

Dooley continued to explain to Simpson that when High Tech High was offered the chance to buy the school, they again went to Horizon’s pastor and again got his blessing. He pointed out that they reduced Horizon’s rent by $4 million to help them in finding a new location. According to school district documentation, Horizon paid the school district approximately $1.5 million annually.

Dooley brought his point home by saying, “A lot of time has gone by and quite frankly we’ve bent over backwards to help. Horizon went into this negotiation and signed the deal. We didn’t have a gun to their head, they had their eyes wide open, and I’m sorry that time has run out but that’s where we are.”

Michelle Washburn is the parent of children that have attended both Horizon and High Tech High. She said while she is heartbroken that Horizon is pretty much defunct, all three of her children currently attending High Tech High love it.

High Tech High has started the city permitting process. A public notice went out in March with a public hearing notice to follow.

Per Dooley, the plan is to refurbish eight of the ten existing buildings. He said while they look nice on the outside, “inside they are very 1959.” The elementary and middle schools will go into existing structures while the kitchen/cafeteria and locker room buildings will be demolished and replaced with a two-story building for the high school. Dooley confirmed nothing taller than what is there now will go in.

The existing football field will be turned 90 degrees to allow students to use the field without crossing the parking lot. Dooley said that they don’t have a football team, so the field will likely be redrawn for lacrosse and soccer. There are no plans to rent out the field to the public.

Dooley said the field reconfiguration will allow for a longer drop-off area for parents. To avoid congestion, start and stop times will be staggered for different grades. Per Dooley, the city requires 210 parking spaces, but they plan to provide 385. He said this should be more than enough parking on a daily basis. The only time there might be spillover is on those nights when they have events to show projects.

The school has a hands-on educational approach that has students learning by doing projects. Dooley also touted the benefit of them not using bells or buzzers like other schools.

There will be changes surrounding the school property. Dooley said that Mt. Alifan will be widened by seven to ten feet to allow for a bike lane. The city is requiring additional traffic signals.

Dooley said the most unique aspect of the new campus will be the existing theater and athletic field since other campuses don’t have these amenities.

The budget is approximately $45 million. Dooley said funding from Prop 51 will be sought. Bonds are on the table if the latter falls through.

The principal of Horizon, Cathy Dobbs, said Horizon isn’t doing interviews at this time. When I spoke to Dobbs in October, she told me that a realtor had been searching for a new location for three years. She said the zoning was making it hard to find a new home.

Dooley said they inherited Horizon’s lease when they purchased the property. He explained the lease was for 25 years starting in 2007 but had an early termination clause. Per Dooley, High Tech High and Horizon agreed to accelerate the termination date to June 30, 2017.

In early April, someone dropped flyers at nearby residences protesting High Tech High moving into the neighborhood. After receiving the flyer, Coulson urged others to send a protest email to Councilmember Chris Cate.

A nearby resident that also got the flyer said, “They should have garnered support years ago instead of this late in the game. I feel for the kids, but c’mon it’s just a little ridiculous to blame High Tech High for having the money that Horizon doesn’t. If you want to blame someone, blame the school district for having money problems. Blame them for not having better schools so that charter schools are needed.”

Dooley said construction will begin a year from now and the school will open in August 2019. While the permit application lists 1632 students, Dooley said reality will be closer to 1250. The numbers break down to 475/elementary, 300/middle school, and 450/high school. He said the application period will start in late-2018 with more information forthcoming on their website in July 2017.

Coulson has real concerns about the possibility of 1600 students in her neighborhood. While Horizon states they have near 700 students on their Facebook page, Dooley said Horizon had 1150 to 1200 in their heyday.

Will Horizon students be given any sort of priority? Dooley said they aren’t allowed to give preference to any particular groups, expect for free and reduced lunch qualifiers and siblings. “Horizon students will be accepted into the lottery just like any other residents.”

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Comments
9

With High Tech High a SD School District Charter, how does the school district go about selling it to itself?

April 22, 2017

Charter schools operate independently from school districts. So I don't think High Tech High has any connection to SDUSD. These are separate entities.

April 23, 2017

Actually SDUSD's Mike McQuary oversees HIGH TECH HIGH as part of his collection of schools. Charter schools are under the authority of the district - they offer alternative access to education - sometimes as a result of the district failing to keep kids from dropping out, sometimes because parents demand more say and flexibility in the style of education. Charters can be both privately and publicly funded. In fact, they are ALWAYS publicly funded.

April 23, 2017

OK, but does SDUSD actually OWN the charter schools? Overseeing the charter schools doesn't imply ownership. My sister taught at a charter school in NM for several years, after a long career teaching for a school district middle school. She said the school district did not control the charter school, the teachers/principal set the curriculum, and the school didn't have to deal with the school district's bureaucracy anymore. Is CA different?

April 23, 2017

If San Diego Unified actually has an administrator who "oversees" the charter schools that were chartered by the district, it's a step in the right direction. Most districts that charter a school walk away from it, washing their hands of any subsequent problems. The laws in California that govern the operation of charter schools "require" the chartering district to maintain oversight. Few do anything close to that. And for that reason, many charters turn out to be a racket that sucks up educational dollars while underpaying teachers and overpaying administrators, or corporations that run them. The whole picture of charter schools in this state is a mess, cries out for reform, and sullies the charter schools that really are there to educate.

April 25, 2017

To the admin of High Tech High. Please accept my apology for finding fault with you in this process. Thank you for your sincere efforts on behalf of our children at Horizon.

Most sincerely,

Kimberley Coulson

April 23, 2017

My original question: How does SDUSD sell a building to itself?

April 25, 2017

I think the answer to your question is smoke and mirrors.

April 25, 2017

San Diego Unified School District doesn't sell a building to itself in this transaction. SDUSD owned the property where Horizon was a longtime tenant, but SDUSD now has sold the buildings and land to High Tech High. HTH got financial help to make the purchase from an unknown philanthropist, possibly a member of the Irwin and Joan Jacobs family which financed the first High Tech High over at Liberty Station. San Diego Unified may have chartered the original HTH -- or the charter may have come from San Diego County or the State of California -- but a public school district is obliged to make sure that any charter within its jurisdiction is fiscally sound and operates according to the education laws of California. The point of charters is that they have their own managing boards and there is no micro-managing of operations by the school district. Charters also do not require a unionized teaching staff, though a majority of teachers may vote to join the teachers union.

May 18, 2017

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