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Poway Unified Kids Can’t Attend New School Because Parents Didn’t Pay For It

Aired 1/21/14 on KPBS News.

Find out why only some kids in the Poway Unified School District can't attend a new K-8 school in their neighborhood.

— A group of Poway Unified School District parents is petitioning the school board because their kids won’t be allowed to attend a brand new school that’s less than a 20-minute walk from their homes. At issue is whether those parents paid for the construction of the new school.

The kindergarten-to-8th-grade school called Design39Campus, is the 39th school in the district — the last one Poway Unified plans to build.

The $82 million-school is under construction at the corner of Lone Quail Road and Camino Del Norte, an area chock-a-block with new developments in the northeast section of the city of San Diego.

Design39 is more than just a fancy new building. It’s designed with a different approach to learning. Think of it as the “Google” of elementary and middle schools.

“In the blue space, you’ll see this is a collaboration space. That is actually wide open to the rest of the areas,” states a video about the new school on its website.

Rendering of interior space of Design39Campus from PUSD website.

Dominic and JoAnna Munafo live less than a mile from the new school. They have four kids ranging in age from 3 to 10. The Munafos were excited when they learned about the new school and its teaching philosophy. They even attended planning meetings with the new principal.

“It wasn’t until Dec. 21, just before the two-week winter break, that we were informed that we wouldn’t be able to go to Design39,” Dominic Munafo said.

The Munafos aren’t the only ones. Their entire neighborhood of about 60 homes was told their kids can’t go to the school because they didn’t pay for it.

The school is being funded entirely with Mello-Roos tax dollars. Those are extra property taxes homeowners in new developments pay for roads and schools.

A school district or even a city government can create a Mello-Roos tax district called a Community Facilities District, or CFD, and charge homeowners Mello-Roos. The extra tax bill ranges anywhere from an extra $100 a year to many thousands.

Poway Unified has many such districts, which charged homeowners a total of more than $42 million in extra taxes last year.

The Munafos live in CFD No. 9. They pay about $2,300 a year in Mello-Roos taxes.

The school district told them their Mello-Roos dollars are being used to pay off construction costs for Del Norte High School, which opened in 2009, and not Design39. So their kids can’t attend.

“There was no transparency to the process. We were simply left off the list of CFDs that were eligible for Design 39. And there was no explanation. There was no plan. There was no outreach to the parents,” Munafo said.

District officials say they are following the law, giving priority to families whose tax dollars directly contributed to the construction of the school.

“It’s easy to understand their frustration. However, those Mello-Roos dollars have not paid for any Design39 seats. And therefore we cannot allow students from those CFDs to attend,” said Jessica Wakefield, Director of Communications with Poway Unified.

“It’s against government code,” she said.

Thirty percent of the school’s seats are being saved for neighborhoods currently under construction in a newly formed tax district, CFD No. 15. The district expects 1,600 new homes to be built, generating 550 school-aged kids. Once homeowners move in, they’ll be subject to Mello-Roos taxes too.

Design39 is being built to accommodate a total of 1,400 students.

The Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act says parents who pay the extra taxes to build a new school should get priority to attend the school. The law also allows the district to make exceptions for things such as achieving ethnic or racial diversity. Poway Unified can also allow the children of school staff to attend the school, even if they don’t live in the neighborhood.

District officials are currently considering such a request from Design 39 staff.

Kimberley Beatty is Poway’s newest school board trustee. She’s had concerns about how Mello-Roos dollars are spent since she took office more than a year ago.

”I could see it would be somewhat awkward for sort of one island that isn’t allowed to go to school 39, and the surrounding neighborhoods are going to that school,” Beatty said.

“There are community policy reasons why we should look at this and create something that is responsive to the community,” she said.

The district needs an additional $40 million to finish building the school. It’s going to issue municipal bonds to raise the cash and pay the interest on those bonds with Mello-Roos taxes from 10 CFDs — including CFD No. 9 — Dominic and Joanna Munafo’s tax district.

The Munafos are baffled by how the district can promise their tax dollars to investors yet exclude their children from the school.

“It would therefore appear that the bonds, in their current form, could not have been secured without CFD No. 9 funds,” the Munafos wrote in their petition letter to the school board.

The district says the Munafos’ taxes are just being used as collateral to get a lower interest rate.

Dominic Munafo boils the convoluted financing scheme down to an issue of fairness for him and his family.

“Access to Design 39 is really about equal opportunity. The neighborhood schools and the neighborhood children should have access to the neighborhood school that’s closest to them,” he said.

The Poway Unified School Board meets Tuesday at 6 p.m. It’s expected to vote on the final financing plan for Design39. The Munafos plan to present their petition asking the board to let their neighborhood kids attend the school.

This story was updated Jan. 23rd, correcting the name of the school from Deign 39 to Design39Campus.

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Avatar for user 'Lorelei'

Lorelei | January 21, 2014 at 7:43 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Wow. I'm not sure I would ever buy a home in Poway. Or anyplace with Mello-Roos.

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Avatar for user 'LaTyBr'

LaTyBr | January 22, 2014 at 1:40 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Actually, the name of the school is "Design39Campus". It was approved by the PUSD Board already. Or do the petitioners do not know this? The groundbreaking was May 2013. The community meetings began September 2013. Where were these people then?

Very good one-sided reporting. Also, did you know that these same members of this community (a gated community of million dollar homes called "Salviati in the Santa Fe Valley") are also funding lawyers to stop a church project that is going in next to their gated community because they feel it will block their view of "open space"? Look it up: 4S Santa Fe Valley Mega-Project Abatement Coalition

So, the moral of the story is, if you have enough lawyers, money, and million dollar homes, you can probably get what you want, laws or no laws.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | January 22, 2014 at 2:11 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

If they need extra funding and the people close to the school are willing to provide it why can't they all get what they want?

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Avatar for user 'LaTyBr'

LaTyBr | January 22, 2014 at 2:53 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

But they don't pay extra funding. The story mentioned that the petitioners paid $2,300 for the year in Mellos Roos. The average house in that neighborhood, Salviati, (look it up on zillow or some other real estate site) costs 1 million dollars.

In CFD 6 (4S Ranch/Del Sur), the average house (also condos and apartments which CFD 9 does not have) is $700,000 and the Mello Roos on those homes are $4,200 and up.

CFD 9 is not paying extra at all.

Also, what people don't understand is that there is a lottery for about 900 seats. So, even if they are in the lottery, they are not guaranteed a spot. Or do they get their lawyers out and make the district give them spots over the other 3,000 kids in the lottery (from Monterey Ridge, Stone Ranch, and Del Sur elementary schools)?

There will be lots of kids in the eligible CFDs that will not get spots, regardless. What makes this group special?

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Avatar for user 'Joanne Faryon'

Joanne Faryon, KPBS Staff | January 22, 2014 at 6:13 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Hello LaTyBr,

Thanks for your comments. And thanks for pointing out the fact that homeowners pay varying amounts in Mello-Roos taxes. You mention CFD 6. In fact, many homeowners in CFD 6 pay into two different Poway Mello-Roos tax districts: CFD 6 and CFD 6 Improvement areas. The CFD 6 funds are collected for school infrastructure, the Improvement funds are collected for roads, etc. You can check your address here Chances are if your Mello-Roos tax bill is more than $4200, you're paying into two CFDs which are for different purposes. The Mello-Roos Act says the taxes can't be based on the value of the house - they're supposed to be based on the services you receive in your special tax district. In the end, the developer and the school district negotiate these mitigation agreements before the neighborhood is built, and that ultimately decides how much the homeowner will pay once he/she moves in. And good point on the lottery - the school district doesn't yet know the number of families wishing to attend the new school, but suspects (according to board members at Tuesday's meeting) demand will be greater than supply. In that case, the families eligible to apply could be subject to a lottery. At issue in this story is whether all neighboring homes will have the opportunity to apply to the school. The answer is no because their Mello-Roos taxes did not fund construction.
Joanne Faryon

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Avatar for user 'NPRfan'

NPRfan | January 22, 2014 at 8:40 p.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Ms. Faryon,

Many families in Chula Vista pay Mello-Roos taxes too. It would sure be nice to know if that money is being spent properly/legally.

Maybe KPBS could send you south for a little investigation.

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Avatar for user 'LaTyBr'

LaTyBr | January 23, 2014 at 6:23 a.m. ― 3 years, 2 months ago

Ms. Faryon, You mean, like roads that must be created and improved upon to lead to the new school that the Mello-Roos is already paying for? So those outside 6,14,or 15 aren't paying for that,either, but they still want it. I live in Poway but I want to attend Willow Grove in SantaLuz, another area with million dollar homes. I pay Mello-Roos, so according to those in CFD 9, I should be able to go there anyway, right? Weary of these special interests and their special lawyers who try to mow over the rest of us when they get news they don't like...

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Avatar for user 'dgminerx'

dgminerx | January 27, 2014 at 9:10 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

LaTyBr pegged it spot on. This article is completely one-sided and favors the community with the cash that wants to shoehorn their way into a school that none of their tax dollars went into building.

I guess inewsource is just as influenced by the money as much as the candidates they report on their front page.

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Avatar for user 'sandiego92064'

sandiego92064 | January 28, 2014 at 8:05 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

LaTyBr: Boy do you get down to the truth! The facts do not create the sensationalization for a story that the "investigative" reporter needs to have in order to grab readers' attention....

It is interesting that the "investigative" reporter does not "investigate" what other public agencies are doing with their special assessment dollars.... There are a heck of a lot of them out there.

Guess you have to dis the best K-12 school district in Southern California in order to get white space!

I know one thing. My respect for KPBS has deteriorated extensively. I will never contribute to them again and will suggest to all of my friends and neighbors to do the same. What a waste of the funds that they have contributed!

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Avatar for user 'dgminerx'

dgminerx | January 28, 2014 at 10:38 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

The kicker to all this is that in reading the petition that the 3 families drafted, it's not even about their children. Their last sentence gives it away (emphasis mine):

"If and when our families choose TO SELL OUR HOMES, WE WANT TO BE ABLE TO ATTRACT BUYERS who might want Design 39 as an option for their children."

Thanks KPBS, for advertising for them. Will you get a referral or marketing bonus on their sales?

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