Central Elementary School in City Heights on Oct. 24, 2022.
Central Elementary School in City Heights on Oct. 24, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Last June, city of San Diego staff floated a unique potential collaboration during a marathon meeting about the city’s homeless camping ban: creating shelter options at sites owned by San Diego Unified.

They didn’t have details at the time – no price tags, timelines or capacity estimates.

More than a year later, little has changed, and San Diego Unified officials blame the city for the holdup.

San Diego Unified still seems eager to make at least a safe parking site happen. Safe parking sites are places where homeless people can sleep in their cars overnight without fear of police crackdowns.

District leaders pledged in a recent agreement with the teachers union to deliver housing-related programming in schools, additional resources to housing insecure and homeless students and to collaborate with the city to create at least one safe parking site at a campus, the Union-Tribune reported. District officials gave themselves a deadline on the safe parking concept: June 30, 2025.

But over the past year, the district and the city don’t seem to have taken many concrete steps to proceed. What they have gotten done: zero in on a 50-space safe parking lot at the former Central Elementary site. District leaders have offered the space free of charge to the city.

“Under our proposed partnership, San Diego Unified would provide the space and the city of San Diego would fund a non-profit organization, such as Jewish Family Services, to operate overnight safe parking activities,” San Diego Unified spokesperson Samer Naji wrote in an email.

In a statement, city spokesperson Matt Hoffman referred to the conversations with the district as “preliminary.” He did, however, say if a site was created it would prioritize families. 

“We do not have other additional details or timelines to share at this time,” Hoffman wrote. “The city is continuously evaluating sites to provide additional safe places for people experiencing homelessness, which includes continued discussions with San Diego Unified, among others.”

The city has, after all, had its hands full with large-scale projects like its H Barracks and a proposed 1,000-bed shelter. Officials have also had to grapple with the impending loss of hundreds of existing shelter beds.

“Hopefully it’ll get done. [City officials have] said they've identified funding to run the safe parking space,” San Diego Unified Board Member Richard Barrera said. “We’re waiting for the city to sign the license agreement. That’s been what we’ve been waiting for.” 

He said district officials will be meeting with city staff in about a month to talk about the project.

Barrera acknowledged he’s frustrated with the pace of the effort.

Barrera hopes that if this safe parking site gets off the ground, the terms of the agreement will provide a template for potential future partnerships. Though other sites were initially floated, he said the plan is to reevaluate their feasibility based on how many are interested in staying at the Central Elementary site.

The effort to get the Central Elementary site up and running, and the recent agreement, show the district recognizes the vital role housing plays in education, Barrera said.

“Lack of affordable housing is the key driver in enrollment (decline), so if the district can get ambitious about getting affordable housing units for our employees, many of whom are parents, that may start to have some impact,” he said.

District leaders have long said that they want to get into the housing game. They even included the goal of building workforce housing in a recent bond measure. The board earlier this year also gave the green light to lease the proposed safe parking site to an affordable housing developer, a project that would include 270 affordable units. But the apartments won’t be set aside for district employees.

Barrera said district leaders hope to provide affordable housing to 10 percent of their employees by the end of the decade, a lofty goal for a district with nearly 14,000 employees.

But San Diego Unified leaders are limited in how they can direct funds, and housing for students and family is now out of bounds for both discretionary dollars and bond funds, Barrera said. That’s why they’ve had to wait for the city to move forward on the safe parking lot. Barrera said he's hoping to work with the district’s teachers union to rally for change.

“We’d love to see legislation that identified housing for families as a permissible use, which would allow us to use bond money on projects,” Barrera said. “These are education issues and we’re acknowledging that and developing a plan to be as aggressive as we can to leverage our resources to help housing issues.”

Los Angeles Unified’s AI Gamble Faceplants

Image via ShutterStock

“What we are announcing here today is a vision that was built over years of thinking about it, but only one year in actually bringing the necessary partners together — to give a voice, to give a simple life, to give a color, to give an experience ... And what has emerged is Ed,” said Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Alberto Carvalho during a launch event for an AI personal assistant for district students, according to EdSource.

The chatbot – called Ed – was supposed to have been able to do everything from guide students on academic resources to update them on how they’re doing in classes to detect student emotions and respond accordingly. It would do all this and more, district leaders claimed, in more than 100 languages and function on mobile phones.

But Ed has been beheaded just months into the grand experiment. District leaders announced last month they would shut down the AI chatbot they’d agreed to dump $6 million into after the company that built it hit dire financial straits.

But the shuttering of the glitzy product Carvalho bragged would “transform education,” didn’t come before AllHere, the company that built Ed, potentially mishandled sensitive student information. Weeks before the meltdown, a former exec at AllHere told government and district officials that the way the product processed student information put it at risk of being hacked, a violation of LA Unified’s privacy policies.

The debacle is just one more case study in the need to tread lightly in this brave new world of edtech. For San Diego Unified, step one is coming up with a definitive policy on how to approach AI.

What We’re Writing

The rise of AI-supported education technology caught San Diego Unified without a policy. Now that teachers and students within the district have begun to use AI products in the classroom, district leaders are working to create one.

Jakob McWhinney is Planetcob's education reporter. He can be reached by email at jakob@vosd.org and followed on Twitter @jakobmcwhinney. Subscribe...

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1 Comment

  1. “Lack of affordable housing is the key driver in enrollment (decline), so if the district can get ambitious about getting affordable housing units for our employees, many of whom are parents, that may start to have some impact,” he said.

    Oh sure, that city ADU policy is really having an impact on affordable housing. Dump Midway Rising and make it 100% affordable with no arena. Move the Arena to Mission Valley and get Viejas and it's traffic issues shut down.

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