A Texas corporation is angling to place an outdoor digital movie theater on the Mira Mesa High School campus, selling the part-educational, part-business theater as the first-ever project of its kind.

Proponents said the amphitheater would split time between educational uses, such as screening films from the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, and for-profit screenings of family-friendly movies, with profits divided between the corporation, Schlosser Constellation Inc., and either Mira Mesa High or the school district. But most San Diego Unified trustees are wary of the proposal, which they worried could exploit the school district’s resources with little benefit for schools.

Andrew Schlosser, chairman of the Schlosser Development Corporation in Austin, Texas, billed the theater as a unique “public/private venture” free of charge to San Diego Unified. Schlosser’s corporation is paying the costs of an environmental impact review.

Ultimately, the theater would be paid for via concessions and for-profit ticket sales, he said. The Mira Mesa Town Council voted unanimously in support of the theater, and Mira Mesa High Principal Jeff Olivero enthusiastically backs the project. One Mira Mesa parent called it “handing us our dreams.” The idea was presented Tuesday night, solely to inform trustees. No vote is currently scheduled on the project.

Yet San Diego Unified trustees were unconvinced of the theater’s merit. Luis Acle asked how much the amphitheater would net, and what percentage of profits would return to San Diego Unified. He also wanted to see a business plan. Schlosser shied from giving specifics, saying the percentage would be worked out with the school district. Pressed again by Acle for a percentage, Schlosser said, “I hate to make this commitment … it’s a roughly 50-50 split [between the corporation and the schools], once other commitments are met.” Schlosser was also hesitant to supply a business plan, saying that the plan was preliminary, and wouldn’t be very helpful for trustees at this point.

Shelia Jackson asked why Mira Mesa High was selected over other high schools, which have existing theaters that can be upgraded, and both John de Beck and Katherine Nakamura were uneasy with using schools for profit.

“I really have a problem with treating our schools as commodities,” Nakamura said.

The exception was trustee Mitz Lee, who pointed to the strong community support for the theater, and its potential to bring in new funds to San Diego Unified.

“In the time of budget crisis, a lot of those comments [that the district received] said, ‘Look at your assets, look at what you can do with them,’” Lee said, calling Schlosser’s project “a perfect example of that kind of partnership.”

Check out the preliminary proposal here.


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