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Yorba Linda's School Secession Efforts to Resume in Legislature Jan. 15

January 03, 1986|BILL BILLITER | Times Staff Writer

After 11 years of fruitless efforts to withdraw from the Fullerton Union High School District, the fires of secession remain bright in Yorba Linda.

"They thought we'd run out of energy, but we haven't," said Phyllis Coleman, a trustee in the city's elementary school district. "We're still working on it."

Coleman and Yorba Linda School District Supt. Mary Ellen Blanton say the city's current hopes are contained in a secession bill scheduled to be heard Jan. 15 in Sacramento by the state Senate Education Committee. The measure, Senate Bill 907, would allow Yorba Linda School District to merge into the neighboring Placentia Unified School District, which borders the Yorba Linda district on three sides.

Yorba Linda, a city of about 35,000 residents, has no high school of its own, and therein lies the problem.

"If Fullerton Union High School District, years ago, would have built a high school in Yorba Linda, there would be no problem," Blanton said in an interview Thursday. "Instead, they built Troy High School in Fullerton, and that's where our students from Yorba Linda have to go."

Blanton noted that most Yorba Linda high school-age students must drive seven or more miles to get to Troy High. Yorba Linda residents point out that their elementary school district is the only one in the state not contiguous to its high school district.

Fullerton Union High School District officials say that Yorba Linda citizens, until recent years, never attempted to join new school districts as they were being formed in the boom years of Orange County growth.

But the Yorba Linda officials reply that the reason the city made no effort to separate itself from the Fullerton district earlier was that the high school district for many years promised to build a new high school in Yorba Linda.

The last hopes for a high school in Yorba Linda disappeared on Dec. 28, 1984, when Fullerton Union High School District sold, for about $6.5 million, a 38-acre site in Yorba Linda that had long been proposed as a high school site.

District officials said their studies showed that Yorba Linda had a declining school-age population and did not need a separate high school.

Yorba Linda School District students attend school in their own city from kindergarten through eighth grade. After that, they are assigned to Troy High, where about 900 of the 1,700 students are from Yorba Linda.

Fullerton Union High School District officials say that if those 900 leave, Troy or one of the district's five other high schools would have to close.

"You can't take 900 of 1,700 students and have a viable program," Joe Merlo, a Fullerton Union High School District trustee, said Thursday. "Losing those 900 students would make a big impact." Merlo said that in state financial support--which is based on number of pupils--Fullerton Union would lose at least $2 million a year if Yorba Linda secedes.

Blanton said that Yorba Linda and Placentia Unified school officials have been conferring in recent weeks with Fullerton Union representatives to try to work out an amicable arrangement. "We don't want to hurt Fullerton," she said. "We'd like to work out something where education in no district would be hurt."

Merlo agreed that talks are proceeding but said "we would like Yorba Linda to stay."

Fullerton, in fact, has successfully fought every previous move by Yorba Linda to secede. In 1977, after years of work, Yorba Linda thought it had won. The state Board of Education granted the city's request to secede from the Fullerton district if voters of Yorba Linda approved in a referendum set for March, 1978.

But before the election could be held, Fullerton took the issue to court. After years of lower court wrangling, in 1982 the state Supreme Court threw out the secession plan, upholding the Fullerton district's position that a secession by Yorba Linda would have to be approved by voters in both districts.

In March, 1984, Yorba Linda again went to the state Board of Education with its secession plea--but this time the board rejected the request.

Last year, with all other avenues seemingly blocked, Yorba Linda sought a legislative solution. The bill to be heard Jan. 15 was introduced by Sen. William Campbell, R-Hacienda Heights.

Blanton said Yorba Linda officials are trying to remove Fullerton's opposition to the Campbell bill by finding ways the secession can be arranged without financially hurting that district. A Campbell aide in Sacramento said Thursday that he believes progress is being made in this direction and that the bill will be amended before Jan. 15 to incorporate secession-easing proposals.

If the bill were to make it through the Legislature and be signed by the governor, Yorba Linda's elementary school district would merge into Placentia Unified. Most of the Yorba Linda high school-age children would then go to El Dorado High in Placentia, which is closer than Troy High in Fullerton, said Blanton.

Blanton noted that about 40% of Yorba Linda's residents already live in Placentia Unified. (School districts need not follow exact city boundaries, so the city of Yorba Linda is split between the two districts.)

"The bill calls for there to be a temporary increase of the school board from five to seven members while the reorganization is going on, so that Yorba Linda would have a voice on the Placentia school board," said Blanton. "I don't know if the name of the district would be changed; it would be up to that board."

Yorba Linda School District trustee Coleman noted that the long battle has pitted that small district (about 1,700 students) against Fullerton Union's much larger one (about 11,500 students). But Coleman said Yorba Linda is not quitting, despite 11 years of setbacks. "We're going to show them that even little guys can succeed," she said.

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