The route from Alpine to Granite Hills high illustrates a hazardous stretch of highway.
  • The route from Alpine to Granite Hills high illustrates a hazardous stretch of highway.
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Alpine resident Gary Lane's niece and nephew talk of having their own high school in Alpine. All the kids do, said Lane. Keeping teen spirit local is the dream while the nightmare is that long and dangerous commute to high schools in the Grossmont Union High School District. Lane's niece and nephew commute to one of them, Granite Hills High.

Alpine's first one-room schoolhouse built in 1891 by Benjamin Arnold. (Alpine Historical Society)

Alpine's first one-room schoolhouse built in 1891 by Benjamin Arnold. (Alpine Historical Society)

For decades, Alpine residents have been expecting a high school to come to their town at the foothills of the Cuyamaca Mountains. Alpine has a K–8 school district that directs high school students to the Grossmont high-school district; the latter has 11 schools spread out between El Cajon, La Mesa, Spring Valley, Santee, and Lakeside.

"Over the years, there have been accidents and several fatalities of both parents and students,” said Alpine resident Sal Casamassima. "Most recently, an Alpine student coming from Steele [Canyon High] was involved in a head-on collision with, coincidentally, one of the [Alpine School District] employees."

Casamassima's daughter won't be making that trek, as he has moved her to the Coronado school district. "Many other parents have made similar moves and there are numerous examples of families deciding not to move to Alpine or moving out of Alpine for lack of a high school."

The Grossmont school district has eleven schools spread out between El Cajon, La Mesa, Spring Valley, Santee, and Lakeside.

The Grossmont school district has eleven schools spread out between El Cajon, La Mesa, Spring Valley, Santee, and Lakeside.

For 20 years, hopes have been repeatedly raised and dashed. In 1997, a planned Alpine high school was instead built in Spring Valley. Since that time, Alpine has attempted to reorganize their K-8 school district into a K-12 district (called “unification”). This would allow them to build their own high school.

The road to no high school in Alpine has been paved with good intentions. Funding was secured via millions in bond measures, a school site was purchased via eminent domain, and demolition begun. Everything halted circa 2012. A 2013 San Diego County Grand Jury report followed, as did a 2014 lawsuit and another stab at unification.

In January 2018, the state board of education denied Alpine's most recent attempt at unification and an appeals court upheld that Grossmont wasn't obligated to build the high school.

Scott Patterson

Scott Patterson

Scott Patterson, business services deputy superintendent, oversees the school bonds program at the Grossmont Union High School District. He said Alpine students enrolling into Grossmont schools have decreased slightly over the past five years. Patterson said 300 Alpine students attend Granite Hills and an estimate of 400 attend Steele Canyon in Spring Valley.

According to Patterson, when Proposition U passed in 2008, student enrollment was at 23,245. When numbers dipped to 22,200, work had to be halted. The bond measure dictated enrollment numbers of at least 23,245 to build the school. Numbers have declined to 21,000 per Patterson.

Grossmont school district not breaking ground on Alpine High.

Grossmont school district not breaking ground on Alpine High.

Casamassima said the decline in enrollment is due to schools like Cajon Valley where nearly 1000 students, mainly Chaldean immigrants, left the school to attend local charter schools.

Patterson said while they are working toward extending the life of construction permits for Alpine, in case enrollment numbers increase, "the district's governing board may elect to use [Prop U] funds to complete other near term high priority projects. Funds for the [Alpine] high school project would then come from future bond sales."

Alpine High someday, maybe, maybe not

Alpine High someday, maybe, maybe not

Besides enrollment and bond funds, Patterson pointed to the additional $1 million in overhead a new school would bring his district — one that has seen its share of financial woes.

George Barnett, a plaintiff in the recent lawsuit, called Grossmont's recent legal victory "a technical win with admonitions of a decade of poor behavior."

Barnett said the case for Prop U in 2008 ($417 million) was to complete the promises not kept in the 2004 Prop H ($274 million). The latter pointed to constructing the new high school but funds were gobbled up by other projects. Prop U specifically told voters a new high school in Alpine or nearby Blossom Valley was in the cards. Barnett said it looks now to be on the "list for 2035, 30 years after Alpiners began paying their share of $150 million in principal and interest."

In an ironic twist, money earmarked for a park the community has been waiting on for near two decades may go toward upgrading Alpine's middle-school athletic fields. Barnett said the upgrade would serve both the community and the school and shouldn't detract from the county's efforts to secure more parkland in Alpine.

Mary Harris said before the Alpine School District knew the outcome of their legal battle with Grossmont, "they energetically began to sell their idea to Alpine to vote for spending an undisclosed amount of money on a 9-acre sports complex at Joan MacQueen middle school."

Harris is part of a grassroots movement focused on a new park for her community. Every week, she sets up shop outside Ace Hardware or Albertsons to talk to people.

"It would be nice if we could get both a park and a high school, but that's not looking possible." Harris said while Grossmont is blamed for breaking a promise, maybe voters should have read the fine print. "Their promise came with conditions." She said the Alpine School District should take some of the blame for getting everyone's hopes up.

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Comments

Wabbitsd Feb. 5, 2018 @ 3:39 p.m.

"In 1997, a planned Alpine high school was instead built in Spring Valley."

How did that sentence get in this story unchallenged?

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Julie Stalmer Feb. 5, 2018 @ 4:33 p.m.

It was in the Grand Jury report and reported on by more than one publication. They mention Jamul, but Steele Canyon states Spring Valley in their address so I went with that.

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Wabbitsd Feb. 6, 2018 @ 2:11 p.m.

What I am saying is...Alpine was promised a high school starting when? And when was Steele Canyon built? Why was Steele Canyon Built instead of the Alpine School?

There is a lot of history to this story that is not presented by the District, for many reasons.

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Julie Stalmer Feb. 6, 2018 @ 4:14 p.m.

I had to edit out a lot of detail. Important detail, but I just couldn't keep it all in the article. From the Grand Jury report:

February 1997, the GUHSD issued Certificates of Participation to fund, among other things, a new high school in Alpine.

Shortly thereafter, the GUHSD Governing Board changed direction and committed to building the new high school in Jamul. This action resulted in Steele Canyon High School being built in 2000.

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priscilla2018 Feb. 6, 2018 @ 8:52 p.m.

It’s because the land that Steele Canyon is sitting on was donated and so the Board couldn’t refuse it. So, just like before that the District promised a school for Alpine they instead built West Hills High in Santee, Alpine was denied again and again and again. That was over 20+ years ago.

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Wabbitsd Feb. 7, 2018 @ 3:15 p.m.

That's what I was trying to get to. As time goes by, the story is smoothed over. Thank you, Priscilla.

I wonder why they didn't "park" that donated land, and go ahead with the Alpine School. Do you think it had something to do with who donated the land? And maybe why they donated the land?

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priscilla2018 Feb. 9, 2018 @ 3:31 a.m.

This decision was before my time on the Board and there may have been terms requiring that the school be built? I think I heard talk about future housing growth just like why they built Westhills in Santee (but the planned new housing development never happened) This has created a problem keeping both schools at desired enrollment levels. Santana has been in major decline but they are still building that school out to the detriment of Alpine ever getting their high school. Ironically, in 2009 the District purchased land ($23M) in Alpine, only to sit on it, now going on 9 years.

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Dave Rice Feb. 7, 2018 @ 8:42 p.m.

Specifically, I believe Steel Canyon opened in 1999/2000 as a grade 9-10 school. I was a senior at Monte Vista that year and would've been moved but they phased in the opening over three years, with 2002 being the first graduating class.

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priscilla2018 Feb. 9, 2018 @ 2:59 a.m.

When Mr. Patterson talks about the operating cost to run the high school in Alpine, I would remind him that the Board voted to pay off the (COP’s) Certificates of Participation, with Prop H Bond proceeds, to the tune of over $30M which freed the District of their annual $1.5M debt service payment. Those COPs (loan from the SD County Board of Ed at a very low interest rate) went to build Westhills and Steele, nothing for Alpine.

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WeaverSD Feb. 6, 2018 @ 1:36 p.m.

"The CA Courts & State Board of Education and CA Department of Education got this one wrong. Only the San Diego County Board of Education's Committee, acquired through three separate hearings with 9 hours of total testimony, really UNDERSTOOD THE DEPTH OF TRUTH and the LAW OF PROP 39 ENABLED BONDS like GUHSD's Prop H [2004 - $274 Million] , Prop U [2008 - $417 Million], and most recently its Prop BB. It goes to show that Justice Does Not Always Prevail. Enlightenment to the truth on this is needed. A very frustrating outcome has happened denying Alpine and its children a high school. It is needed that accurate information with the relevant history disseminate reality on a few local issues that hit home in a world of smoke & mirrors." Bill A Weaver, Former Chair Alpine High School Citizens Committee (AHSCC Chair, 2005 to 2011-1/2)

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belewmoon Feb. 7, 2018 @ 5:31 a.m.

When did Alpine stop going to Valhalla High School? And why?

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priscilla2018 Feb. 7, 2018 @ 1:37 p.m.

I don't believe Alpine students ever went to Valhalla except for maybe a handful? Unless, those that went to Valhalla, instead of Granite or El Cap, chose to go to Steele Canyon Charter when it opened? Still some are home-schooled, go to private schools, and there is a small group that attend Julian Charter High in Alpine ( a small campus located on the Community Center property)

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belewmoon Feb. 7, 2018 @ 3:30 p.m.

When Valhalla first opened in 1974/75 Alpine went there. They went there at least thru 78.

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priscilla2018 Feb. 9, 2018 @ 2:47 a.m.

Well, that would make sense if Granite was impacted or if that was the boundary designation for Alpine at that time.

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Dave Rice Feb. 7, 2018 @ 8:39 p.m.

Perhaps they had a choice between Granite and Valhalla due to Valhalla not being filled to capacity - Granite would've definitely been closer.

I had a similar situation in the early '90s - West Hills was still fairly new and was accepting transfers from across the district. I grew up in Monte Vista territory but many of my neighbors ended up at West Hills.

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AlexClarke Feb. 8, 2018 @ 7:43 a.m.

If the projected enrollment will continue to drop thus the reason for not building a high school would it not hold true for the existing K-12 enrollment? Why not build a smaller high school and use temporary buildings to augment the school population as needed? Having said all that there has never been a high school in Alpine. The people who live in Alpine have chosen to take up residence there. No matter when the bought or built or rented or whatever they knew there was no high school. While the GUSHD is corrupt to the core with the board elected from the bible thumping far right wing the residents of Alpine chose to live there and buy into the GUSHD "we will build a high school" lies.

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priscilla2018 Feb. 9, 2018 @ 4:11 a.m.

In this very article Mr. Patterson cites that there has been a slight downturn in how many Alpine high school students are going to Granite (400) and Steele (300). The size of the high school in the Bond was downsized from a more comprehensive school to 800 capacity. Some of those 100 missjng students may be home schooled or going to a Charter, but Patterson neglects to account for those going to El Cap. As per current demographic studies Alpine is the area tagged for future growth and is in an upswing now. The problem is that it will never grow to meet the imposed trigger of 23,245. which was by design. So, are you saying that because people chose to settle and expand easterly over the past 97 years having been apart of Grossmont, they should never have a high school? Alpine folks are paying on three bonds for modernization down the hill and certainly should get their fair share. Many of those property owners pay 3 times more in taxes then many down the hill.

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Visduh Feb. 10, 2018 @ 4:50 p.m.

One reason for all the resistance at the district could be the threat of unification in Alpine once the school is built. Something parallel to this went on in the Escondido High School District for a very long time. Valley Center, remote from Escondido, had been campaigning for its own high school, and various administrations and boards of EUHSD had promised them one, "when they had the money." Finally in the mid-1990's voters in the high school district passed a bond issue to refurbish the three existing high schools, provide a permanent campus for the continuation school, and build Valley Center High. And so it was, that using some property in Valley Center purchased many years before, the new VCHS opened in 1998. That new school represented the largest single application of bond funds, and yet "everyone" knew what would come next. The Valley Center district and the Pauma district (both k-8) agreed to combine and unify. It occurred almost immediately, and the fancy new high school was now run by the new unified district. That district decided to make its attendance area the same as the district boundaries and not allow inter-district transfers from the rest of the Escondido district. Bottom line: Escondido taxpayers taxed themselves to build the new VCHS, and couldn't use it. There was a negotiation between EUHSD and VCPUSD for some sort of financial adjustment, and the figure agreed to by both districts was a payment by the VC district to the Escondido district of $1 million. There are plenty of folks down in 'Dido today who are still livid at what happened. Yes, they got their schools refurbished and expanded and got the permanent continuation school built. And yes, the Valley Center taxpayers have to pay on the Escondido bonds until they are retired. But the whole deal looked very lopsided, and still does.

Would the same thing happen in Alpine? I don't know about that. None of the feeder districts to GUHSD have unified within my memory, although there was an attempt in Lakeside fifteen or twenty years ago.

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priscilla2018 Feb. 14, 2018 @ 10:50 p.m.

I'm aware of the Escondido and Valley Center deal and to my knowledge that was never the intention of the Alpine Union School District to unify after they got their school. However, it was a rumor launched by those who never wanted Grossmont to build a high school in Alpine, this during attempts by both Districts to pass bond measures prior to Grossmont's Prop H. Those previous initiatives both failed for various reasons and the rumor was very effective, as well.

Alpine was told they would get a high school only to see West Hills High built in Santee and Steele Canyon built later in Jamul. Alpine was forced to take matters in their own hands if they were ever going to get a high school. That's why the attempt in 2002 and then again just recently because Grossmont promised the high school but built elsewhere or not at all.

For a long time, the best scenario was for Grossmont to build the school in Alpine. However, after being kicked to the curb and lied to, Alpine was forced to forge unification once again. Because of the manufactured rumor that Alpine would unify, the Alpine Board passed a resolution early on stating that they would not unify if Grossmont built the school. So, no matter what good faith Alpine put forward it didn't matter, Grossmont has proved time and time that they are not people of their word.

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