Battle lines against a new round of school closures on the Palos Verdes Peninsula began forming this week as about 800 residents of Rancho Palos Verdes rallied at Miraleste High School to declare their opposition to any proposal to shut down that campus.
Speakers at the rally in the Miraleste gym Monday night said they feared that the school board would pick their campus on the east side of the Peninsula for closure if it accepts recommendations made by a citizens committee.
The 50-member committee, appointed by the board early this year to formulate a five-year plan for the financially ailing district, suggested closing one of the three Peninsula high schools, at least one elementary campus and possibly one intermediate campus.
In a report made public last week, the committee did not target any particular school for closure, but Miraleste boosters said an earlier draft singled out their campus--the smallest of the three, with no deed restrictions to protect it against possible sale to developers--as the best choice.
Only 10,000 Students
Six elementary schools and one intermediate campus have been closed in the past decade as the district's enrollment shrank to 10,000--a 42% loss attributed mainly to declining birth rates on the affluent Peninsula and escalating property values that keep out younger families with school-age children.
Trustees have scheduled a series of public hearings on the committee proposals at the three high schools, with the first at Miraleste on Oct. 16.
Miraleste-area residents said they would present the board with an alternative plan: closing the district's three intermediate schools and consolidating their students at the high schools. They said boosters of the other two high schools are expected to be equally vociferous in defending their schools.
"Why should we be the one to get picked on?" Phyllis Weitzman, a Rancho Palos Verdes real estate agent, asked the Miraleste rally. "It's time for us to join together and make sure our voices are heard."
Affect Property Values
In speeches reminiscent of those heard before other school closures, a parade of residents expressed fears that the loss of Miraleste would adversely affect property values and the quality of life in their community.
Pat Perrin, a member of the newly formed Committee to Save Miraleste High School, also projected increased traffic congestion if nearly 1,000 Miraleste students have to commute to the remaining high schools on the west side of the Peninsula.
He said Miraleste students would log nearly 6,000 more miles a day if they are reassigned to Rolling Hills High School in Rolling Hills Estates and the Palos Verdes campus in Palos Verdes Estates.
Another speaker said Miraleste might be leased to the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has expressed an interest in using surplus schools in the South Bay to relieve overcrowding on its campuses. She asserted that the inner-city students would bring drugs and crime to the residential neighborhoods around Miraleste.
'Avoid a Blood Bath'
Susan Brooks said Rancho Palos Verdes residents hope to "avoid a blood bath" over school closures by offering what she called a realistic alternative to the recommendations of the district's citizens committee.
The plan calls for closing Dapplegray Intermediate School and two elementary campuses next year. Dapplegray's seventh- and eighth-graders would be sent to Miraleste and its sixth-graders would go to two elementary schools, Rancho Vista and Mira Catalina.
In the following year, according to the Miraleste plan, the Malaga Cove and Ridgecrest intermediate schools would close and their students would be divided among the other two high schools and four elementary schools.
Final result: three high schools serving seventh- through 12th-graders and six elementary schools for kindergarten through sixth-grade students.
Save $6.3 Million
Barry Hildebrand, an aerospace engineer who helped write the Miraleste plan, said the closures and consolidations would save the district about $6.3 million over the first five years--an amount close to the $6.1 million deficit projected by the district in the same period.
Hildebrand said he expects "some heated discussions" as both sides of the hill hunker down to defend their schools.
The district's study committee also suggested imposing a flat-fee tax on property in the four Peninsula cities served by the district: Rancho Palos Verdes, Palos Verdes Estates, Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills Estates.
And that issue also generated some heavy debate Monday night as the school board held the first of two public hearings on the subject at the district headquarters.
A levy of at least $100 over three to five years on about 24,000 parcels in the four cities was proposed by the committee to help offset projected deficits, but many speakers at the hearing predicted a taxpayer revolt against the proposal.
The board is scheduled to decide on Oct. 20 whether to ask voters in the March elections to approve the special school tax. A two-thirds majority of those voting would be required to pass the measure.