Bonsall Unified School District board sworn in; Cunningham hired as superintendent

The board members of the Bonsall Union School District were sworn in as the board members of the Bonsall Unified School District during the new district’s March 14 organizational meeting which also saw the official hiring of Bonsall Union School District superintendent Justin Cunningham as the superintendent of the new unified school district “We got the board sworn in,” Cunningham said of the organizational meeting. “We’ll spend the next 15 months shutting down the union district.”

On November 6 the voters of the Bonsall Union School District and the other two elementary school districts within the Fallbrook Union High School District authorized the creation of the Bonsall Unified School District, which will convert the Bonsall Union School District from a K-8 district into a K-12 district while removing that area from the FUHSD boundaries. The reorganization will take effect on July 1, 2014, although the official unified district board will approve transition-related matters.

“We will definitely be transitioning everything over,” Cunningham said.

The board and staff will also need to implement the high school. “The idea of designing the high school is really exciting. We’re really looking forward to that part,” Cunningham said.

That will be in addition to running the existing school district. “Adding this on is a heck of a lot,” Cunningham said.

The fact that the district currently doesn’t have a high school also means that there are no traditions or other school-specific standards to uphold. “We don’t have any of that,” Cunningham said. “We’re really looking at an innovative model.”

Cunningham was hired as the Bonsall Union School District superintendent in 2008. He had previously worked with the San Diego County Office of Education, starting that position in 1989. The most recent unification in San Diego County prior to Bonsall’s was in 2000, when the Valley Center and Pauma elementary school districts broke away from the Escondido Union High School District and Valley Center High School was transferred from the Escondido district to the new Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District. Prior to the Bonsall unification, the county’s previous most recent unification in which an elementary school district without a high school became a K-12 district and added its own high school was the Warner district, which unified in 1995 so that Warner Springs students wouldn’t have to be transported to Julian High School. The Warner Unified School District has its high school and middle school on the same campus, as will be the case with Bonsall.

“I was able to observe both of those situations,” Cunningham said.

“Each unification is so unique,” Cunningham said. “The ed code (California Education Code) is written to cover certain situations that don’t apply in this case.”

In the case of Bonsall, the shift in the state funding formula also makes the transition unlike any previous unification. “No other unification had to deal with a shift in the way schools are funded,” Cunningham said. “We’re also transitioning into the new California Core standards.”

Cunningham is currently the unified district’s only employee; the other K-8 district staff members will remain with the union district and will eventually be transitioned to the unified district.

“I look forward to serving the community,” Cunningham said of being appointed as the superintendent of the new unified district.

San Diego County Office of Education superintendent Randy Ward officially appointed the Bonsall Unified School District board members and swore them into office. The terms of the interim Bonsall Unified School District board members will expire on December 4, 2014 (Cunningham is working on a waiver to the election requirements that a special election be held to maintain or overturn the board appointments), after which the candidates who were successful in the November 2014 election will constitute the board.

(Normally a school district reorganization election involves two elections: one whether to create the new district and the other to select the board members of the new district should the reorganization pass. In most cases a reorganization vote to convert a K-8 district to a unified K-12 district is held only within the boundaries of the proposed new district, but the vote to create the Bonsall Unified School District involved voters from the entire high school district. The State Board of Education granted a waiver to allow for the appointment of an interim governing board contingent upon passage of the Bonsall unification.)

The March 14 meeting of the unified district also set the regular board meeting date for the second Thursday of each month, which is the same regular meeting day for the Bonsall Union School District. The K-12 District meetings are scheduled to begin at 5:00 p.m. with the K-8 district meetings commencing after the conclusion of the first meeting. (Due to schedule conflicts next month’s meeting will be held April 18). Board meetings are normally held at the Bonsall Community Center; the board may move rotate meetings between various sites throughout the district.

“We definitely want to make sure that the communities know they are the district,” Cunningham said.

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