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Private Schools Battle Over Lease for Foothill School Site

February 13, 1986|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

In 1983, the La Canada Unified School District closed Foothill Intermediate School because of declining enrollment. Three years later, the 13-acre site suffers from a different malady--a battle between private schools over who will get to lease it.

On one side of the conflict are five schools who moved onto the campus at least two years ago and whose leases expire in June. On the other side is Los Angeles Lutheran High School, which must move from its Sun Valley site by July 15 because its property has been sold.

Also embroiled in the controversy are parents whose children attend the private schools now on the campus and neighbors who complain that, if Lutheran High School occupies the site, the additional older students will increase litter, traffic and loitering.

School board officials are reviewing proposals from both sides and must decide whether to renew the one-year leases of existing tenants, who rent about 70% of the campus, or rent to Lutheran High School.

The board expects to decide by Tuesday's meeting, said Mark Facer, deputy superintendent for the La Canada school district.

No matter which group wins, the only clear financial victor appears to be the district, which expects to have a net income of $293,000 from the property no matter who gets the lease. The funds are expected to help offset a projected budget deficit of $600,000 for the 1986-87 school year, Facer said.

Lutheran High School has offered the district $400,000 for the annual lease, a figure that has been matched or nearly matched by the five-tenant group composed of Delphi Academy, Basic Education Center, Pinewood Academy, Victory Montessori School and Progressive Montessori School, said officials of those schools.

All five tenants said school district officials promised them the right of first refusal if they matched Lutheran High's offer, a statement confirmed by school officials. Facer would not confirm that the tenants had met Lutheran High's proposal. But he said that matching the bid would raise rents at the five schools by 50%.

About 400 students attend the five schools, which range from enriched academic programs for ages 4 through 13 to special education for the disabled. The schools have their own classrooms but share lunch and recreational facilities.

If the board approves their leases, school owners said they would pass some or all of the rent increase on to students through tuition hikes.

"Definitely, we would raise our rates. We'd divide the rent increase among the students, " said Douglas Hogg, owner of Hogg's Hollow Preschool and the Pinewood Academy.

Some school owners expressed frustration with the high rents. "We're talking kids and education; they're talking a 50% increase," said Audree Fischer, owner of Basic Education Center. Fischer and others said they do not want to move from La Canada Flintridge but that no other educational facilities are for rent in the city.

Parents whose children attend the private schools have rallied to their support. "I'm willing to do anything I can to help keep Delphi Academy there," said David Morse, whose two sons attend the school.

La Canada Flintridge residents whose children do not attend the private schools also said they would like to see the current lessors remain, citing potential traffic problems and concern about whether high school sports would disrupt city-run soccer and baseball programs held on the campus athletic fields.

Lutheran High enrolls 465 students who attend grades seven through 12 and commute from as far away as Monrovia, Santa Monica, Simi Valley and Inglewood. Its existing location on North Glenoaks Boulevard in Sun Valley has been sold to Woodbury University.

Lutheran Principal Alfred R. Roth said the school has looked at about 30 sites but that the La Canada campus offers the best hope for a new home.

"We're hoping to reach an agreement as soon as possible," he said this week.

'Element of Control'

In repeated meetings with school board officials and community members, the principal has stressed that administrators would maintain an "element of control" over students, that recreational facilities would be shared with the community and that students would be restricted to campus during school hours.

Despite these assurances, La Canada Flintridge residents have for the past month crowded into Board of Education meetings alongside parents and Foothill Intermediate School tenants and have waged letter-writing campaigns urging school district officials not to accept Lutheran High's proposal.

La Canada Flintridge resident Martha Burns collected 67 signatures in four days on a petition that she delivered to school district officials last month. She later was contacted by about 50 more residents who also opposed the high school, she said.

The high school originally had asked La Canada Flintridge for a 10-year lease, but board officials rejected that idea because of the possibility that Foothill Intermediate School may be reopened as a public school. A soon-to-be-completed study is expected to show rising enrollment patterns in La Canada Flintridge , said Carole Siegler, board president.

Three other small private schools that lease one or two classrooms each from Foothill Intermediate School and would be forced to relocate are Education Outreach, Leeway School and the School for Individual Achievement. But they have not protested.

Four other tenants also lease administrative office space at the school, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which has about 15% of the school on a three-year lease.

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