Passing over an array of more drastic proposals, the Palos Verdes Peninsula school board opted this week to snip out just one more campus--Dapplegray Intermediate--from the 15-school system in a renewed effort to solve the district's financial problems.
The plan adopted by the trustees Monday night after a series of public hearings calls for closing Dapplegray, one of three district schools for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, and selling or leasing the 43-acre property as soon as possible after the end of the school year.
To make room for Dapplegray's students next fall, the nearby Miraleste High School on the east side of the Peninsula will be converted to a seventh-through-12th-grade campus, and Rancho Vista and Mira Catalina elementary schools, now serving kindergarten through fifth-grade youngsters, will be expanded to take in sixth-graders.
New Round of Closures
The board's decision was a victory for a group of Miraleste parents who organized last spring to ward off the possibility that their school might be targeted in a new round of closures necessitated by a continuing decline in enrollment in the 10,000-student district.
"Our concern in the beginning was just to save Miraleste," said Susan Brooks, publicity chairman for a 50-member committee called MUST (Miraleste Unified Seven Through Twelve Plan). "But as we worked on the problem, we became convinced that we could offer an alternative that would also be in the best interests of the district."
She said the MUST plan to consolidate Dapplegray's seventh- and eighth-graders on the Miraleste campus will lead to enriched programs and a broader range of extracurricular activities for both junior and senior students while saving the financially strapped district an estimated $300,000 a year.
A citizens advisory committee appointed by the board had recommended closing one high school and at least one elementary campus. Among proposals from other groups was a plan to do away with the district's remaining eight elementary schools and send their youngsters to converted intermediate schools.
The district's financial picture was brightened further this week by the sale of the undeveloped Peninsula High School site to a developer for $6.7 million--about $1.3 million more than the appraised value of the 26-acre property in Rolling Hills Estates.
District spokeswoman Nancy Mahr said money from the sale will go into an investment fund, and only the interest will be used for operating expenses. Under the lease-purchase deal made with two developers, the district will receive 10% of the base price annually for up to two years, she said.
After the lease period, the developers, who plan to build homes on the property, will buy the land at the base price plus up to 8% for inflation, she said.
In going for the Miraleste plan, the trustees made what is perhaps the most popular board decision in a decade-long--and often traumatic--struggle to scale back the district's facilities and programs in line with a 42% loss in enrollment.
In sharp contrast to the hostile mood that marked school closure hearings in past years, an overflow audience at Hesse Park Monday night frequently applauded declarations by the trustees. Trustee Sally Burrage read several letters praising the board, and other members remarked on the generally cordial and sympathetic attitude of the community.
Smiling Miraleste parents wore huge MUST buttons, and parents on the west side of the Peninsula, who oppose any change in grade configurations in their schools, were heartened by a board majority's refusal to impose the Miraleste 7-12 plan in the rest of the district. Trustee Jeffrey N. Younggren, joined by member Marlys J. Kinnel, argued strenuously for a board commitment to convert Rolling Hills and Palos Verdes high schools to the Miraleste configuration eventually.
He said a decision now would give the district long-range direction and relieve community suspense over what the board would do if more changes or school closures become necessary.
However, the board majority stuck to the position that the dust from the Miraleste change should be allowed to settle first. Burrage urged people who are happy with the board's Miraleste decision to get behind a campaign to win approval for a special parcel tax in the March elections.
A favorable outcome would add about $2.5 million a year to the district's income and perhaps help forestall further changes in grade configurations, Burrage and other trustees suggested.
A small band of Dapplegray-area parents was not among the pleased. Glenda Buglioli read a letter from the Empty Saddle Homeowners Assn. condemning the Miraleste plan, which she said would lower the quality of education on the east side and adversely affect property values.
She said the association will find it "difficult to support the parcel tax initiative next March."
Naomi Phillips said the board had made a "political decision" that only postponed what she called Miraleste's inevitable closure.
Under the five-year master plan adopted Monday, the board also adopted plans for various program and staff improvements "if funds permit."
Dapplegray parents will be given a one-time option before Feb. 1 to send their seventh- and eighth-graders either to Miraleste or to the Ridgecrest or Malaga Cove intermediate schools on the west side of the hill.
A similar option will be available to Ridgecrest and Malaga Cove parents, who can send their youngsters to Miraleste. High school boundaries will not be changed.