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Parents' Pleas Fail to Keep Torrance School Open

February 20, 1986|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

TORRANCE — The South Bay's painful saga of school closures in an era of dwindling enrollment continued this week as the Torrance Unified School District decided to shut down another campus and prepared to close at least one more before the end of the school year.

Under the plan approved after a five-hour meeting Tuesday night, Newton Middle School in south Torrance will close and send its approximately 500 students to the Calle Mayor campus next fall.

The second campus targeted for closure, Jefferson Middle School in west Torrance, gained a two-week breather when trustees, battered by protests from parents in recent weeks, backed off from an immediate decision on closing that school and moving its 320 students to Lynn Middle School.

Instead, the board instructed the administration to review an earlier plan to close both Jefferson and Lynn and move their students to the Victor Elementary School, a large campus designed to accommodate 1,020 children in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

Victor's 640 elementary students would be dispersed to the Anza and Towers campuses under that plan, one of numerous proposals offered in the district's efforts to bring facilities into line with what administrators call the "harsh realities" of declining enrollment.

At a March 4 meeting, the board is scheduled to decide which of those schools will close.

Early in the long session Tuesday, the board accepted a recommendation to adjust the attendance boundaries of Carr Elementary School in the northern part of the city. Starting next fall, Carr's sixth-graders will go to the Magruder Middle School, instead of to the Casimir campus.

At the meeting in Levy Curriculum Center, Supt. Edward J. Richardson told about 300 angry, frustrated parents that Torrance's "anguish" over neighborhood school closures is shared by other beach cities. He noted that the Torrance district has lost nearly half of its enrollment--from a peak of 34,200 students in 1967 down to about 19,000 this year--and has closed 12 elementary schools along the way.

"But all our anguish and all our sadness and all our emotions will not create new students," he said. "It would be far easier to ignore the harsh realities of declining enrollment," he said, but that course would be ruinous for the district's educational programs.

If the district had not closed 12 campuses already, he said, "we would now have 42 schools with an average enrollment of 250 students and we would be drowning in red ink."

Richardson attributed losses in enroll ment to falling birth rates and rising housing costs that make it financially difficult for younger families with school-age children to live here.

Affordable Housing Scarce

Now, he said, there is little or no affordable housing left in Torrance and the population continues to age as longtime residents stay on and older newcomers with higher incomes move in.

Those assertions were disputed by parents, who accused the administration and trustees of juggling numbers and projections to justify closures while ignoring the effect of their decisions on "real people."

"It's not polite to suggest that we can't afford to live here, because we can," Newton parent Debbie Robinson said icily, looking at Richardson. "And we are having children."

Another Newton parent, Rich Zinniger, urged the trustees to "reexamine your figures and not take a step that cannot be reversed." He said district enrollment projections do not take into account many young families moving into Southwood and other areas of Torrance.

Scrimped and Saved

Pam Butler said there are "more kids in Southwood than ever before. It's crazy to close these schools when we will need them in the future." She said her family scrimped and saved for years to be able to afford to live in Torrance and give her children the advantage of a superior education.

District planners contend that the system has more than ample capacity in its remaining schools for any foreseeable need. Meanwhile, Richardson said, the district "cannot afford the luxury" of operating under-enrolled schools.

After the board's decision to close Newton, a group of frustrated parents gathered outside the auditorium to discuss any further recourses that might be open to them. Proposals ranged from a recall drive against trustees to setting up private schools in which children would be educated by parents.

"Nobody is listening to us," said Annette Utpadel, "but we have to keep fighting for our neighborhoods."

Still to be considered by the trustees are proposals to consolidate Wood and Adams elementary schools in the central area of the city, with one of them closing, and combining the Seaside and Arnold elementary campuses in south Torrance, with Arnold closing.

Paul Mackey, the district's special services administrator, said those proposals will be included in next year's general plan.

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