New Middle School and Scripps Ranch Funds

You may be aware of a recent San Diego Union-Tribune article that mentioned that the San Diego Unified School District expects about $5 million from Scripps Ranch for our new middle school. We wanted to give the community some background and clarify the information.

First off, I want to state that the community of Scripps Ranch does not have a $5 million bank account. I wish we did, but we don’t. What the community has is several special assessment funds that are defined for specific projects. Special assessment funds are public funds collected and controlled by the city of San Diego that are used to provide public facilities and benefits to those who live in the special assessment district.

It should also be noted that there are two equal public agencies involved here–the city of San Diego (the city) and the San Diego Unified School District (the district). Each has a responsibility to the residents to provide infrastructure. The city is responsible for general public infrastructure–parks, libraries, roads, water, sewer, and such. The district is responsible for schools.

At the time of the initial planning of the new middle school, the city controlled five Scripps Ranch specific special funds of public money–three were capitalization funds and two were operational funds.

In the Scripps-Miramar planning area, basically the area south of the lake, there were three funds:

  1. Scripps Ranch Special Park Fund (SPF)–This fund was collected by fee from each building permit issued in the planning area and is the main source of funds to provide recreational facilities for the community. These funds must be used to provide recreational facilities to the residents within the assessment area.
  2. Scripps Ranch Facilities Benefit Assessment (FBA)–This fund was collected by fee from each development in the planning area and is the main source of funds to provide public facilities such as libraries, road improvements, and traffic lights. The funds must provide public facilities to benefit those who live in the assessment area.
  3. Scripps Ranch Maintenance Assessment District (SR MAD)–This is a fund collected through assessment fees on property taxes and is used to provide maintenance and improvements to public-owned land within the community, open space, and parks within the assessment area.

In the Miramar Ranch North planning area, there was only a MAD fund, as all the parks and city-provided public facilities were part of the development agreement and built as part of the project.

The fifth fund was the Village and Country Settlement fund paid by Kaufman and Broad, and the only restriction was that this fund must be used for the benefit of Scripps Ranch.

Distribution of any of these funds must be approved by the City Council and must meet the restrictions that each fund operates under.

As we all remember, the initial plan for Scripps Ranch schools was to use Proposition MM funds to construct a permanent elementary school at the Ellen Browning Scripps Elementary School site. However, once Prop MM passed and initial planning was started on this project, the district and community recognized that our community faced two immediate school problems–we needed more middle school capacity, as well as elementary school capacity.

Once the school district realized this situation, they indicated a willingness to rethink how these two problems might be addressed, while still trying to stay within the financial bounds of the Prop MM plan–one new elementary school for Scripps Ranch. The concept proposed was to construct a new middle school and reuse the current middle school for our fourth elementary school.

Since middle schools are more expensive than elementary schools, the district was concerned about the adequacy of the Prop MM funding to accomplish this plan. Preliminary discussions were held with those in the community who understood what community funds might be available, and options were discussed as to how we might "leverage" all available assets to facilitate this conceptual plan.

Both the community and district realized that this shift in school plans for Scripps Ranch was a major undertaking that would take cooperation and flexibility from all involved to accomplish. But, the end result, sufficient middle school and elementary school space for all our children, was a significant improvement for our community.

At the time of these preliminary meetings, the initial site discussed was the Scripps Ranch Business Park. Placing a middle school at this site seemed to work with respect to "leveraging" community funds. If the middle school were constructed with improved athletic facilities, then these facilities would benefit the middle school, the high school after- school athletic programs, and community recreational needs.

Thus, SPF funds could be used to provide benefit to both the district and the city. Also, with the increased road traffic in this location, use of the FBA funds for road improvements on Scripps Ranch Boulevard represented a possible benefit to both the city and the district.

In these initial discussions, various funding sources were looked at for their potential to assist in this effort. Obviously, during this process, the various city-controlled community-based funds were discussed, as were the Prop MM funds. However, since the site was not determined nor the school design known, it was not possible to take any actions towards requesting of the community or the city to plan for, set aside, or dedicate any funds towards this school plan.

There is a process we follow in Scripps Ranch–any recommendations of expenditures from these funds are first noticed and discussed in the appropriate community groups and forums, and then the groups vote on the recommendations. The recommendations are then forwarded to our council office for action.

Over the last several years, the initial school plan has gone through major revisions, especially with respect to where the middle school will be located. During this process, any discussions or actions between the community, the city, and the district with respect to cost sharing were not appropriate since there was not a definable plan.

Unfortunately, the initial discussions with respect to community support of the project costs seemed to have been built into the school district’s financing plan without any formal commitment or discussions with the city or the community. This was done even though all parties knew that public funds require extensive public review and approval before any commitment can be made. The process for city-based funds must be approved at the City Council; the process for district-based funds must be approved at the Board of Education.

Where do we stand today? The bulk of the Village and Country Settlement fund was expended to purchase the Shea 4-acre parcel–west of the new Vons–that we hope to put a YMCA or other community-based recreational asset on.

The SPF does have funds, however, these funds must be used for recreational assets for the community. They cannot be used to build a school. Can they be used to help construct middle school play fields? Possibly, as long as those fields meet some level of recreational usability, and a Joint Usage Agreement is worked out with the school district.

Now that we have a more definitive school plan, the use of SPF funds may be assessed, understanding that these funds do have various other project requests against them. So, use of these funds must be determined based upon maximum gain for community recreation.

The FBA funds can only be used for road or other public improvements on city-owned property; these funds cannot be used to construct a school.

Of the two MAD funds, one or both might be used to provide some maintenance funds for publicly used assets such as play fields, but this would have to be reviewed by both MADs, and, if appropriate, this would have to be part of the Joint Usage Agreement.

The community is committed to doing whatever we can to support the district’s plans and will continue to work with the city and the district on this issue. Now that we have a definable plan, we can work with the district and city to see what expenditure of "our" public funding on the school can be done within the restrictions of these funds.

If there is a way, I am sure that this community will make the appropriate recommendation to our City Council and we will work with the city to insure that this occurs. The process will be open to all to voice their concerns, and any recommendations that go forward will do so after the various oversight groups involved have met, discussed, and voted on the issues.