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Morning Report: San Diego Unified Sends Parents to Collections Over School Bus Rides

A line of San Diego Unified school buses. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Riding the bus to public schools in San Diego costs $500 per student, though families can get the second kid for 50 percent off, meaning it only costs $750 to ensure the safe arrival of two kids to their free education. (Some kids meet strict standards and qualify for free transportation.)

If families don’t pay up by summer break, San Diego Unified sends them to a collections agency to recoup the funds. Families that don’t pay up after that can lose the opportunity to take the bus to school, as Mario Koran uncovered in a new story.

“Unfortunately, the district cannot afford to provide free transportation to every student,” the district said in a statement. California is one of a few states that allows (but doesn’t require) districts to charge for transportation to school.

But Derek Findley, a local parent, didn’t realize that’s what he was signing up for when he signed his kid up to take the bus to Mission Bay High.

“I mean, it’s a school bus. I just assumed it was free,” he said.

Now the debt is hanging over his head, damaging his credit long after his son graduated from high school.

Dan Domenech, an executive of a national organization of school administrators, said his group believes part of a free education means making sure kids can get to school for free, too. And he said he’d never heard of a school district that sends families that are behind on payments to collections.

“It’s a shame,” he said.

SDG&E’s Unlikely Friend

San Diego Gas & Electric has been working for two years on a plan to replace an existing pipeline that brings natural gas into the county with one twice its size.

That plan has been opposed by a horde of environmentalists and ratepayer groups, but as Ry Rivard reports, one of those groups has recently switched sides, giving SDG&E an unlikely ally: the Utility Consumers’ Action Network, or UCAN.

Pitching the plan puts SDG&E in a tough spot. It’s simultaneously saying that the new, bigger pipe is needed because of safety and reliability concerns with the old pipe. But it’s going to keep using the old pipe, and it says no one is in danger over it.

Testing the old pipe to make sure it’s safe would cost over $100 million; given that expense, the utility says it might as well spend $600 million for a new one – which would also double the line’s capacity.

But while UCAN’s expert is siding with SDG&E that it should replace the line, it’s broken with the company in another way. The utility should not keep operating the old pipeline at lower pressure, as SDG&E had planned, the expert says.

Margaret Felts said the line “should be removed from service as soon as practicable because the physical condition of the line makes it risky to continue operation.”

Other ratepayer and utility reform groups are baffled by Felts’ position. SDG&E agrees it needs the new line, but says the 50-year old pipeline will be perfectly safe once they lower the pressure at which it operates.

The California Public Utilities Commission is weighing the various sides and will determine whether SDG&E gets to build the pipeline.

Alvarez Proposes Homelessness Ballot Measure

Councilman David Alvarez is proposing a 2018 ballot measure that would raise money to help combat homelessness and build more subsidized housing.

His plan, as currently sketched out, wouldn’t necessarily raise taxes. Instead, it would require that any growth in revenue generated from the existing hotel tax be dedicated to homelessness services, shelters and low-income housing for the next 20 years. It’s not clear how much money that would generate for those causes.

Alvarez wrote a memo Tuesday to Council President Myrtle Cole asking her to schedule discussion for the proposal at a future meeting of a City Council committee that will go over potential 2018 ballot measures.

His announcement caught the ire of a spokesperson for Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who has been in a long-running feud with Alvarez for years. Craig Gustafson took to Twitter to say the city had taken a series of recent steps to combat homelessness, while Alvarez had opposed a bunch of them and instead writes memos and grandstanding.

In Other News

The San Ysidro School District has a new superintendent – again, as inewsource reports. L.A.-based education consultant Mary Willis takes over the interim position after the previous leader, Jose Arturo Sanchez-Macias, resigned last week. Sanchez-Macias was himself an interim superintendent, after his boss Julio Fonseca resigned at the beginning of September. Both Fonseca and Sanchez-Macias faced allegations of misusing district funds for personal benefit, following an investigation by inewsource.

Scripps Health has rolled out its master plan for a $2.6 billion makeover of its health care system, including a new hospital in Hillcrest. (KPBS)

The San Diego Superior Court is already way behind schedule on moving into its new, $555 million downtown courthouse. But while the development costs for the project were covered by fees on court filings, the Union-Tribune’s Greg Moran reports that the costs of actually moving court officials into the new building need to come from the local court’s budget.

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