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By Collin Breaux

Officials with the Capistrano Unified School District are continuing to ponder the next steps to secure funding for facility upgrades at Dana Hills High School.

The timeline for potentially placing a bond measure on a future election ballot was again discussed during a CUSD Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 21. In June, a split 3-3 vote by the Board of Trustees prevented the proposed bond measure from going on this November’s ballot, which would have allowed Dana Point voters to decide whether to levy taxes on property owners to fund building upgrades on the Dana Hills campus.

The state does not provide funding for school facility needs, necessitating the use of bonds and other fiscal sources. Previous bond measures to fund school facility upgrades in CUSD have failed over the years after not getting enough votes.

CUSD officials have discussed Dana Hills facilities and a bond measure throughout the year. Buildings at Dana Hills, which opened in 1973, are aging and said to need updating.

District staff presented an overview of current facility statuses and related matters during this past month’s meeting. Bond measure election date options include January 2023, March 2023, November 2023, January 2024, March 2024, and November 2024.

“There’s other opportunities next year for bond elections,” said Clark Hampton, CUSD’s deputy superintendent for business and support services. “Those all require a two-thirds majority for passage. Prop 39 bonds have to occur during General elections on even years, so the next opportunity would be during a Primary in spring 2024.”

A Proposition 39 bond would require a 55% voter approval.

CUSD calling for a special stand-alone election just for a bond measure would “cost more money” compared to “piggybacking” off a pre-established General Election date, Hampton said.

Michele Ploessel-Campbell, the executive vice president of the Capistrano Unified Council Parent Teacher Student Association, spoke in favor of funding for facility upgrades.

“Speaking as a proud parent of a Dana Hills Dolphin, we need to do the work to rebuild Dana Hills High School into a 21st century school,” Ploessel-Campbell said. “For a school turning 50, it is showing its age—as we all seem to at the half-century mark.”

“However, I strongly recommend spending 2023 doing community outreach and education on how school facilities are funded in California and identifying the needs of the school, then placing the bond on the ballot in 2024 to give us time to convince the community to support our fantastic school,” she continued.

Dana Hills Parent Teacher Student Association President Katie Andersen said a renewed energy seen in the student body demonstrates momentum necessary that can push the school forward.

“Throughout the past few weeks, I have attended events where I’ve had opportunities to meet members of our local government from both sides of the aisle. Each person I spoke with agreed that Dana Hills High School needs to be rebuilt,” Andersen said. “While the potential bond needs to pass through an election process, I feel very strongly that this issue needs to be depoliticized so we can put our children, our teachers and safe education facilities in proper focus.”

Andersen proposed November 2023 or March 2024 as options so that outreach and collaborative work can be done.

“I guess I’m learning towards 55 (percent approval),” said Board President Martha McNicholas, whose area of representation includes Dana Hills High School. “I’m not sure we can get two-thirds.”

Trustee Amy Hanacek said while the associated costs are challenging, educating the public about facility needs is crucial.

“It’s a huge cost not to address this gigantic cost every time we wait. It’s really tough,” Hanacek said. “December would be the drop-dead (date) for March of 2023, correct? By December, we will have information more from the neighboring community.”

Polling could be done at the school site, Hanacek said.

“For sure, (there is) 2024 (of) November,” Hanacek said. “I start working back out from that date right now and making my timeline for how I’m going to pass a bond for Dana Hills High School. More than ever, that school is doing amazing work. It deserves our attention.”

More information is expected to come before the Board of Trustees in December.

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com.                         

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