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Crises balanced with positive change defines education system

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From budgets to rallies and construction to curriculum, a lot is going on when it comes to education in San Diego County. A state budget in turmoil and riddled with assumptions, and triggers that would kick in if those assumptions are wrong, have left many in doubt of what is to happen to those the industry, from students to the contractors that build the schools. The volatility of the crises has been tempered with positive change, though, including solidarity, new construction and a look to the future. Here are some of the things that have recently come to define San Diego’s education.

Teachers vote to save colleague’s jobs into 2013

In March 2012, amid a projected $122 million district-wide budget deficit, more than 1,600 San Diego Unified School District teachers received layoff notices, sparking protests and sending labor union leaders into a frenzy to save a majority, if not all, of the jobs slated to be cut. While the issuance of pink slips in the months before school year’s end has become somewhat of a routine the past few years, most have not gone on to take effect.

In 2012, however, the fight to save jobs had gone especially long, and San Diego Unified had indicated that because of especially bad budget conditions, union concessions would be the only way to curtail the revised 1,500-plus layoffs. As the heat of summer 2012 approached, union leaders began to feel the heat of pressure — in early June, the teachers union authorized limited talks on the possibility of forgoing raises, extending furlough days and changing health benefits. Negotiations led to a deal in which, in exchange for the rescission of 1,481 layoffs, teachers would indeed forgo the already-negotiated raises and continue furlough days for two years, pending a district-wide vote by teachers. That vote resulted in more than 3,000 of the district's teachers supporting the agreement, surpassing the minimum needed for its passage by nearly 800 votes and setting the stage for a nearly unchanged payroll for the 2012-13 school year.

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Props. N and S changing look of community colleges

After providing hundreds of millions of dollars for projects already completed, funds from bond measures Propositions N and S continue to change the shape of San Diego Community College District campuses. SDCCD’s construction bond program was made possible by San Diego voters with the 2002 passage of Proposition S and the 2006 passage of Proposition N, bond measures valued at $685 million and $870 million, respectively. As part of the district’s Green Building Policy, all new construction projects and major renovations are designed to obtain LEED certification from the U.S. green Building Council. Projects scheduled to begin in 2012 and 2013 hold a total value of around $220 million. Most of the transformational work through the year is scheduled to take place at City College and Mesa College. About $83 million in projects will bring the downtown City College campus a Child Development Center addition, renovations of the Engineering Technology and “M” and “C” buildings and a “D” Building roof replacement that will make the roof usable space for students. At Mesa College, more than $88 million will go to work in 2012 and 2013 to bring a new cafeteria, bookstore and stockroom, a new Social and Behavioral Sciences building and a new fitness center. More than $45 million in projects will start at Miramar College, including a renovation to change the campus’ interim library into a new Student Resources and Welcome Center and build new science and administration buildings.

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Corruption continues to rock South Bay

The drama that unfolded amid criminal charges of corruption and bribery among four Sweetwater Union High School District officials and a contractor hired by the district to oversee $644 million in construction bonds will continue unfold into 2013. In January 2012, contractor Henry Amigable and four people associated with SUHSD — former district superintendent Jesus Gandara, former district board member Greg Sandoval and current board members Pearl Quiñones and Arlie Ricasa — were charged with 26 felonies that included perjury, filing false instrument, influencing an elected official and obtaining a thing of value to influence a member of a legislative body. At the time Amigable and the others denied allegations of wrongdoing connected to a reported $10,000 in gifts, meals, wine tasting outings, sporting events, hotel accommodations and beauty pageant fees alleged to have been paid from Amigable to the school officials since 2008 and never reported to the state. A December 2011 raid by the district attorney’s office of the homes of Amigable and the SUHSD and Southwestern College officials first brought the investigation to great public interest. Amigable admitted in March 2012 that he provided the gifts to influence the school board's decisions in granting construction contracts. Felony bribery charges were dropped in his plea deal, which allowed him to face only lesser misdemeanor charges. Additional bribery charges were brought forward by the DA’s office against the four school officials — who maintained their innocence — in May 2012, and preliminary hearings in their cases were set to proceed in January 2013. The DA’s office has called the case the largest public corruption case ever prosecuted by its office.

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Southwestern College decides on PLAs for Prop. R projects

The effects of allegations of a school construction scandal in South Bay schools began resonating through the halls of Southwestern College after a late 2011 raid by the San Diego County District Attorney’s office targeted at least one individual tied to the school. Charges filed in the case were limited to some Sweetwater Union High School District officials and a contractor, Henry Amigable. But the investigation prompted an internal investigation at Soutwestern College and eventually led to a re-examination of the college’s Proposition R projects and a dissolution of relationships with Seville Construction Services Inc., which was the Prop. R project manager and which Amigable was the former vice president of, as well as other firms tied to the investigation. The decision to cut ties with the firms left openings for firms to bid on the future projects that had lost their architects and construction managers as a result. The Southwestern College Governing Board went on to place a project labor agreement on millions of dollars worth of future Proposition R projects.

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San Diego schools ramp up sustainability efforts

From the installation of solar power to added focus in curriculum, sustainability continues to be a hit with San Diego-area schools and colleges. A major development in the area’s solar generation in San Diego Unified School District began in 2011 when the district’s primary solar developer Amsolar Corp. broke ground on several projects totaling 5 megawatts of generation across 20 different schools. And more solar appears on its way if secured funding by certain solar developers is any indicator. In the first quarter of 2012, Borrego Solar announced the closing of a $47 million fund with its partners at U.S. Bank and East West Bank to finance various future solar energy projects, including 10 projects that had been scheduled for three California school districts. Money secured by the developer in the past has gone to build the solar power-generating carports at Mesa and Miramar Colleges. In another sign that 2012 brought sustainability more credibility in the region’s higher education, San Diego State University’s created a major in sustainability and Cuyamaca College began offering a six-week course in green building.

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Additions changing landscape of area universities

Major projects at San Diego State University and the University of California, San Diego continue to progress. Paid for with a student-approved $94 fee increase, SDSU’s old, 60s-era Aztec Center is being replaced with a 200,891-square-foot facility designed in the classic Mission Revival style with LEED Platinum credentials. Construction is expected to continue into the second half of 2013. At UCSD, ground officially broke on the $670 million UCSD Jacobs Medical Center in April 2012, with an expected build-out by 2016. The project will bring the university a 10-story, 509,500 square-foot building and a separate 40,000 square-foot central plant. About 65,000-square feet of the existing Thornton Hospital will also be renovated. The first phase of the project, covering the lower level to the third floor, is expected to open in 2015, with the rest of the building to open in 2016.

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