The traditional holiday of Thanksgiving allows us to reflect and appreciate the things we value. As the superintendent of Morongo Unified School District, I am very thankful to work with so many hardworking and dedicated employees across the Morongo Basin. We are fortunate to have outstanding students across the Basin who our innovative, caring administrators and teachers get the opportunity to inspire and challenge to fulfill their dreams.
We also have a community where neighbors take care of one another and welcome our heroes serving aboard the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base. The area continues to welcome almost three million visitors to the Joshua Tree National Park. We also have a safe community where kids still play outside and we can enjoy the beautiful stars in the night sky.
Recently, we had a wakeup call with an event equal in magnitude to the Landers earthquake.
Joshua Tree was scheduled to be the home of a new resident named Ross Leo Wollschlager. This individual was going to live in close proximity to Joshua Tree Elementary School on a street where at least 10 children reside, including one child with autism. While the Basin has always been a gracious host, this individual was officially declared to be a sexually violent predator. Mr. Wollschlager was previously committed to the Atascadero State Hospital for a period of 11 years due to his actions. These facts alone put any child or female in danger, regardless of where the court system chose to place him.
However, I am truly thankful for the outstanding efforts of this community and their strong opposition to this placement. The statement about “the power of the pen” proved particularly passionate, persuasive, and proactive enough to persuade Judge Nancy Ayers to reverse her previous decision in the case. This was truly a wise decision by a compassionate judge and showed her strength of character to make a difficult decision.
What makes me both proud and thankful were the following:
•Our local elected officials united and took action to energize the community to voice their objections in a civil, organized manner. Supervisor Dawn Rowe and field representative Mark Lundquist devoted countless hours to organizing a dynamic town meeting where the facility was filled to capacity.
•San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Capt. John Mahon and Capt. Trevis Newport lead the intensive investigation to produce data that was not previously shared with the court regarding the potential dangers of placing a convicted sexual predator in the Joshua Tree area. The district attorneys in this case used their skill, wisdom and passion to keep the community staff.
•Representatives from Joshua Tree and the town of Yucca Valley spoke at the hearing to voice their objections to the placement, demonstrating the Basin-wide impact it would have.
•The neighbors who live close to the rental property where Mr. Wollschlager was going to be placed were both brave and empowered. Several of these residents made the trip to Ventura and spoke at the hearing.
•Principal Daniele Snider and Morongo Teachers Association President Kojo McCallum wrote factually based and powerful letters to the judge. I was thankful for the opportunity to attend and present at the hearing in November.
My last point is that at least two current legal practices need to be addressed with our lawmakers:
•No landlord should be able to make two- to-three-times the normal rent by leasing to companies that house sexual offenders. While the landlord reaps the benefit, local homeowners are put in great danger and lose up to half the value of their homes.
•The law should never permit one county to dump their convicted sexual offenders into another county. As the district attorney stated, “San Bernardino County takes care of their own, and Ventura County should do the same.”
I will work in the future to influence our legislators who have allowed landlords to profit at homeowners expense. I will also wade through current laws to stop the practice of relocating convicted sex offenders from the county where the crime occurred to a new county of potential victims.
While I serve as the superintendent, this letter represents my personal opinion as a homeowner in Joshua Tree and former principal of Joshua Tree Elementary School. I am truly thankful to live in a country where we are free to discuss, debate and work together to oppose actions which could be harmful to our families and students.