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CUSD bids goodbye to land, board members in 2013

This year was marked by the Claremont Unified School District saying goodbye to valuable land deemed surplus, including the closing of escrow on a large parcel sold last year and the auction of two more significant pieces of real estate.

With escrow closed on the district’s former district office, located at 2080 N. Mountain Ave., the school district is set to receive the $6.2 million the property fetched from homebuilder D.R. Horton at auction in February of 2012.

Meanwhile, residents are poised to encounter new neighbors as the first of a trio of CUSD transactions adds to an ongoing housing boom in the city of Claremont. As reported in February 2013, the Claremont City Council has given its seal of approval to a 4.2-acre development featuring 54 condos at the former district office site.

Another departure took place at the end of May, when the district’s service center, located at 700 Base Line Road, was auctioned off in less than five minutes. Again, the winning bidder was D.R. Horton, with the company agreeing to pay the district’s asking price of $7 million for the nearly 144,000-foot property.

The decision to sell the service center was slightly contentious, because the old facility was still being used at the time it was declared surplus in February 2013. The solution has been a quick move, with the service center set to be housed at CUSD’s current district office at 170 W. San Jose Ave. The district’s new center of facilities management, which will be housed in a prefabricated building, is expected to open for business in May 2014, according to assistant superintendent of business services Lisa Shoemaker.

Capping off the trend of selling surplus property for increasing amounts of money to parties intent on home development, the CUSD Board of Education approved the sale of the former La Puerta Intermediate School site at its November 21, 2013 meeting.

The property, some 9.7 acres located at 2475 N. Forbes Ave., fetched $18,875,000 from the highest bidder, Brandywine Homes of Irvine, California. The sale is a positive development for district staff members who have spent the last few years navigating a complicated school district budget amid an ongoing budget crisis. It was also lauded by school board members like Steven Llanusa, who attributed the healthy sale price to hard work and cooperation on the part of district staff and on attractiveness of the locale: “I think it’s a reflection of the value people place on living in Claremont, because the developers bidding were homebuilders. They are willing to pay top dollar for land in Claremont because they know people are willing to pay top dollar for homes in Claremont. And a lot of that may well be due to the quality of Claremont schools.”

Some residents were less than thrilled with the prospect of yet another homebuilder getting their hands on Claremont land, however. A COURIER Facebook link to the article on the La Puerta sale yielded comments from dozens of community members, with concerns ranging from overcrowding of the city and its schools to the potential loss of the neighborhoods character.

 

Hello to much needed funds

Some quick calculations show that the district stands to net more than $32 million, an unprecedented influx of money, from the combined sales of the district office, service center and La Puerta sites.

Ms. Shoemaker and district staff have emphasized that, despite such gains, CUSD should continue in the conservative course that has helped the district weather the storm. There are certain restrictions on how money from the sale of property can be spent. It has traditionally been allocated for capital projects and other one-time expenditures.

What’s more, Claremont schools have years of deferred maintenance to catch up on, with facilities issues reflecting safety and compliance with the American Disabilities Act and other state laws at the top of the list.

Nonetheless, the money pouring into district coffers is significant enough that discussion of its allocation dominated the recent school board election. The funds, combined with the passage of Proposition 30 in November of 2012—which put an end to further cuts to the California education budget—have also likely added to a renewed sense of optimism in CUSD.

During an interim financial report delivered at the last school board meeting on December 12, Ms. Shoemaker reported the district had ventured to add a couple of new items to its budget in the coming years: money to pay off some debt and the reinstitution of CUSD’s $300,000-per-year budget for student transportation to field trips and extracurricular activities.

 

School board experiences changing of the guard

It wasn’t just the physical landscape and financial prospects of the Claremont Unified School District that changed this year. The retirement of former board president Mary Caenepeel and board member Jeff Stark, both of whom opted not to run for reelection this year, made for a wide-open school board election featuring three hotly-contested seats.

Five candidates ran for a seat on the Claremont school board in elections held on November 2, 2013, including incumbent Steven Llanusa and a quartet of other board hopefuls: Dave Nemer, Nancy Treser Osgood, Paul Steffen and Joe Salas.

After a vigorous campaign, marked by collegiality and quality among the candidates, Mr. Llanusa, Mr. Nemer and Ms. Osgood were voted to represent Claremont schools. Both Ms. Caenepeel and Mr. Stark thanked everyone in the district as well as those closest to their hearts—their families—for showing ceaseless support and giving up family time while they attended board meetings and an array of CUSD functions.

At the following meeting, the newly elected district representatives were welcomed at yet another reception. The first order of business was to assign new leadership roles. Mr. Llanusa, now in his eighth year on the board, will serve as president in the coming year. Veteran board member Hilary LaConte will serve as vice president.

While it represents a step up in responsibility, Mr. Llanusa is happy to say hello to his new post.

“I’m very honored to have been selected to be president, and I’m very flattered that my colleagues consider me to be worthy of the job,” he said in a December 16 COURIER article.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

 

 

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