"We have one community, one unified school district, one budget and one big problem," Trustee Jeffrey Younggren reminded about 130 parents who turned out for another hearing this week on proposals to solve the financial crisis in the Palos Verdes Peninsula's public school system.
All of the proposals share one essential feature: The closure of more schools and the consolidation of the district's shrinking student population--now about 10,000 after a 42% loss over the past decade--at the remaining campuses.
In moving toward a decision on which schools to close, Younggren said, "We must be careful not to pit one neighborhood against another."
Maryl Cahill, a Lunada Bay parent, echoed the call for harmony and unity, but suggested that bitter feelings have already been provoked in communities like hers that feel their schools are being targeted for closure.
"The greatest pain in all this is in pitting myself against my neighbors," she said, before going on to criticize one of the plans for reorganizing the district.
In an attempt to avoid the trauma that has accompanied past closures on the Peninsula--and in other South Bay districts in recent years--the Peninsula board has moved cautiously, inviting comments and advice from the community at every step of the way.
It has scheduled still another hearing--the fifth in the past month--to give parents of elementary and intermediate students a chance to voice their concerns.
The meeting will convene at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Rolling Hills High School gym. On Nov. 17, at a 7:30 p.m. meeting in Hesse Park, the board is expected to reach its decision on school closures and other aspects of a five-year master plan drafted by a citizens advisory committee.
Several parents at the meeting Monday night wondered whether more school closures would be necessary if property owners in the four Peninsula cities approve a parcel tax proposal in the March elections.
Some Will Close
The answer from board President Jack Bagdasar: Nothing in sight can spare all of the remaining 13 schools. He said a combination of school closures, the parcel tax and accelerated leasing or sale of surplus campuses would be needed to preserve quality education in the system.
Under the plan drafted by the advisory committee, one of the Peninsula's three high schools and one or more elementary campuses would close. The committee, in wide-ranging proposals that included curriculum improvements, also suggested that one intermediate might be closed or converted to serve kindergarten through sixth-grade students.
Fearing that the high school to be closed might be theirs, a group of Miraleste High parents on the east side of the Peninsula is aggressively pushing a plan to shut down the district's three intermediate campuses and divide their students among the high schools and two grade schools.
Two grade schools also would be closed under the Miraleste proposal, called MUST for Miraleste Unified Seven through Twelve plan.
"It's the most self-serving plan I ever heard," said Don Hughes, a Lunada Bay parent at Monday night's hearing. "They start with the idea of keeping their high school open and then they want to make adjustments into the feeder schools to fit the plan."
Parents in Palos Verdes Estates have been no less concerned about the fate of Palos Verdes High, the big school on their part of the hill. In perhaps the most far-reaching plan of all, they want to abandon all eight elementary schools.
Under their plan, the three present intermediates and a resurrected Margate Intermediate--a school in their city that fell under the closure ax in 1985--would educate students through the sixth grade, while the high schools made room for the seventh- and eighth-graders.
Not to be outdone by such plans for wholesale transformations in the district, two Dapplegray-area parents said after the meeting that they would start pushing for open enrollment.
That approach, they said, would demonstrate conclusively which schools the public wants to keep. Parents could send their children to the campus of their choice anywhere in the district, they said, and the schools that were left without enough students to operate efficiently would have to shut down.
Supt. Jack Price analyzed the major proposals, finding pros and cons in each.
"The major problem comes down to school closures," he concluded. "That is the hard decision the board must make."
In a written preamble to his report, Price offered a quotation from English statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke, apparently suggesting that it might help guide the trustees through storms of conflicting advice to that hard decision.
"Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment, and he betrays instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion," Burke wrote in the 18th Century.