Take a moment to reflect on a potential decision. Let’s say you’re charged with building a new state-of-the-art high school for one of the top performing school districts in the United States. You are presented with two options for potential building sites. Option number one is within an expansive park that will grow to rival even New York’s Central Park—a park filled with state-of-the-art sports fields, large new homes, and many local attractions. Option number two is a former toxic waste dump next to an expanding jail and a busy highway. Which of these options seems most fitting for an innovative new high school? Well, the Irvine Unified School District has perhaps redefined the concept of “no-brainer” by favoring option number two, and it’s not a transparent decision.
This should concern citizens of Orange County, where a primary factor for purchasing a house is the quality of the school associated with the property. According to many in Irvine, the landfill on the proposed site contains radioactive and chemical materials that could cause cancer. Additionally, the nearby jail should be a concern. The James A. Musick Facility is 1,000 yards from the proposed high school site. This jail is set to expand to house 2,218 inmates and an environmental impact study has revealed that it could be expanded to accommodate up to 7,584 beds including maximum-security prisoners. Certainly this is not the environment that most people would envision for a nearby high school.
However, the poor choice of a preferred site is no longer the only issue at hand. Also worrying is the fact that this initiative is six months behind schedule. With a fifth high school needed by 2016 in order to avoid overcrowding, construction on the school would need to start within the next few months in order to have a chance of meeting that schedule. With the school in plans for over five years now, the fact that a site has not yet been finalized is inexcusable.
As a result, the Irvine Unified School District faces a dilemma. With vital decisions needing to be made quickly, what will they do? If recent reports are to be believed, it appears that they may decide to address this issue by punting the property over to neighboring Saddleback Valley Unified School District. This might yield a significant monetary gain for the Irvine Unified School District, since the IUSD is $50,944,500 in unfunded pension liabilities according to Susana Lopez, IUSD Director of Fiscal Services, and Sharon Wallin. The unfunded actuarial accrued liability (UAAL) as of June 30, 2013 is $50,944,500. Ms. Lopez stated that this information was included as part of the 2nd interim financial report that was approved by the Board of Trustees on March 18, 2014.”
This decision would serve as a major disservice to Irvine residents, with many parents finding their children shifted from the high-ranking IUSD to a lower-performing district. Initial reports estimate that many families in that area will suffer property value losses of up to $42,000. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the decisions being made in this matter are far from in the best interests of citizens.