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Neighborhood Kids Can’t Go To New Poway Unified School, But Teachers’ Kids Can

An artist's rendering of the Design 39 Campus.
Poway Unified School District
An artist's rendering of the Design 39 Campus.

Some parents in the Poway Unified School District are questioning why the district is allowing teachers’ kids to attend its newest school, while turning away neighborhood children.

The $82-million K-8 school, called Design 39 Campus, is under construction at the corner of Lone Quail Road and Camino Del Norte in the northeast section of San Diego.

The district is holding a lottery for families who want their children to attend this August, but it excludes homeowners who did not pay for the construction of the school through their Mello-Roos taxes.


“All of you might actually recognize my son Noah. Noah is the first child highlighted in the Design 39 Campus video, entitled ‘Why Change the Way We Do School,’” Kimberly Israel told the school board at a public meeting earlier this week.

Israel was referring to her third-grade son who stars in a district video touting the benefits of Design 39’s new approach to learning. Ironically, Noah is not eligible to attend the school.

“You can understand… the disappointment and confusion I felt when I read my children would never be eligible for the lottery for inclusion in this school,” said Israel, who lives about a mile from the school.

Design 39 is more than just a new building. It’s designed with a different approach to learning, allowing students to “progress at their own rate,” according to the school’s website.

“The emphasis is on collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking in all subject areas,” the website states.


The school is being funded entirely with Mello-Roos dollars, extra property taxes homeowners in new developments pay for roads and schools. District officials say they are following the Mello-Roos law, giving priority to families whose tax dollars directly contributed to the school. In Poway, families who live closest to the school may not be eligible.

“The government code that determines how eligibility works for Mello-Roos funded schools is very clear,” school board President Todd Gutschow said.

In order for families to have the option to attend a Mello-Roos funded school, their taxes have to have contributed to the construction of the school, Gutschow said.

When asked why the children of district staff, who may not even live in the area, can attend, Gutschow cited a different state law, the California Education Code.

That law allows students to attend schools outside district boundaries “if at least one parent/guardian of the pupil is physically employed within the boundaries of that district,” according to its website.

Dominic Munafo, a parent of four school-aged kids, believes the school district is selectively enforcing the law.

“They have discretion” about the decision to allow the children of staff to attend, he contended. “They’re choosing to use it (law) in one circumstance, not in the other.”

Munafo, together with a small group of parents, petitioned the district to reconsider its attendance policy, but so far, has been unsuccessful.

Design 39 is being built to accommodate a total of 1,400 students, but will allow just 800 kids to attend in its first year of operation because 30 percent of the school’s seats are being saved for neighborhoods now under construction. Once homeowners move into the new homes they’ll be subject to Mello-Roos taxes which will in turn make payments on the municipal bonds issued to build the school.

The district also plans to phase in the middle school seats.

Already, 1,705 parents have notified the district they want to be included in the lottery for seats.

District officials say they’re not sure how many of those seats will be saved for the students of staff because not all of the teachers have been hired yet, but Gutschow estimated it to be less than “five or six.”

School board member Marc Davis told parents if the district makes exceptions and expands its attendance policy, it won’t be fair to the homeowners whose taxes paid for the school.

“There are some really painful things associated with this issue,” Davis said.

“The thing that mitigates it for me, is none of you are being cast to schools that aren’t incredible schools,” he told parents.

That was little consolation to Al Tumini, who lives near the school. His kids have graduated college.

“My issue is not about kids. It’s about fairness,” Tumini, an attorney who practiced law in Philadelphia, said.

“If they’re telling us they have absolutely no discretion whatsoever, so the question is where did the discretion to allow the teachers come from,” Tumini asked.