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Church School Lease at Miramar College Up in the Air

Times Staff Writer

Amid strong faculty opposition and new concerns over legal issues, the San Diego Community College District trustees decided Wednesday night to reconsider their agreement to lease land on the Miramar College campus to a school run by a Pentecostal church.

The trustees put off until Tuesday any new discussion of their Aug. 13 agreement to lease land to the Mira Mesa Christian School for five years, starting at $1,250 a month, which they have said was strictly a money-making venture. The matter was referred to Chancellor Garland Peed for further investigation.

New language inserted into the lease by Deputy County Counsel William Taylor at the request of the trustees, appears to be the biggest obstacle to an agreement between the trustees and the school.

A new draft of the lease received by district officials from Taylor this week reads that the “school use shall not include any religious worship, teaching or practices for the advancement of religion.”

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The Rev. Ron Shires, pastor of the Chapel of the Rock church and administrator of the school, said that if trustees insisted on such language being in the agreement, “we wouldn’t consider it . . . we’d look elsewhere.”

Damon Schamu, director of plant and equipment services for the district, said the language is still under discussion with Taylor.

Trustee Dan Grady also raised objections to the fact that portable classrooms had been brought onto the campus before the lease had been signed.

The trustees’ decision followed pleas from teachers at Miramar, who cited unanimous faculty opposition to the 85-student elementary school. The school, which is awaiting permits to bring utilities to its site off Black Mountain Road, is scheduled to open in December.

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After trustees approved the agreement with the school Aug. 13, they sent it to the county counsel’s office to be formalized. The trustees asked the county counsel to amend the lease so that it conformed to the state education laws concerning religion.

But the new language took Shires by surprise.

“I believe it is impossible to teach religion without trying to advance it or stymie it,” he told trustees. “Everyone is pretty much pro or con.”

Teachers said they were startled to find two of the church’s four bungalow classrooms on the campus when they returned from vacation last month. They voted 33-0, with three abstentions, to oppose its presence on the campus. They criticized the board for approving the lease when the faculty was not involved in campus activities.

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Teachers told the trustees Wednesday that the Christian school would damage attempts to publicize and improve the 17-year-old campus, a largely undeveloped plot that is home to bungalow classrooms, the San Diego Police Academy and acres of chaparral.

“We faculty, supported by many classified staff (members) and some campus administrators, strongly contend that the appearance of the Chapel of the Rock Christian school and of its relocatable buildings directly fronting Black Mountain Road will have a most negative effect upon the image and identity of the Miramar campus,” said Dorothy Simpson, president of the academic senate.

Simpson also said the $15,000 to be paid annually by the school is a meager sum, and might not be given directly to Miramar College.

Shires said last week that he plans to offer the school’s 85 students a full curriculum with a “real emphasis on their relation with God.” Students, some of whom will be troubled children unable to attend public schools, will study the Bible each day, he said.

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The school will teach creation science--but it will expose its students to the “theory” of evolution--and leaders will reject library and textbooks they consider immoral or profane in favor of ones that promote Christian themes, Shires said. For example, J.D. Salinger’s novel “The Catcher in the Rye” would not be allowed, he said.

Shires said the college would profit because the Christian school would leave behind the utility service when it leaves. The five-year lease is renewable but could be canceled by either side with four months’ notice.

Trustee Charles Reid told Shires at Wednesday night’s meeting that he did not understand when he agreed to the lease that the Bible would be studied in classes each day.

Earlier Wednesday, Shires addressed about 20 members of the college’s academic senate in one of the bungalow classrooms at the 4,000-student school, apologizing for the timing of his school’s request for land on the Miramar campus and promising to be “a good neighbor for you.”

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“Hello, I am the enemy,” the low-key minister told the instructors after he sat through their discussion of how to persuade the trustees to reverse their decision granting his school a lease.

Shires said his school worked quickly this summer to line up a new home after learning that it would have to leave its present quarters at the First Baptist Church of Mira Mesa. Though the timing of the church’s request to trustees coincided with the teachers’ vacation, “we weren’t attempting to sneak anything by you,” he said.

Shires said his school suffers from the same lack of recognition that has retarded Miramar College’s progress. He said the Christian school’s spot on the Miramar campus wouldn’t be “an eyesore” and noted that the school would have gained nearly $100,000 and utility service when the lease ended. This year’s $15,000 lease charge would increase about 4% every year, he said.

But instructor Robert Bacon urged Shires to voluntarily move the school elsewhere, saying its presence might jeopardize the college’s eligibility for public funds it needs to develop the campus.

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