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Enrollment Hike Puts School District in Vise

January 11, 1987|RITA PYRILLIS | Times Staff Writer

BELLFLOWER — Six years after the Bellflower Unified School District closed half of its 16 schools to cope with declining enrollment, the district now faces a steady enrollment increase in its elementary schools that may prompt district officials to reorganize the schools, according to a superintendent's report.

The report shows that the school system will be unable to handle the projected growth with its existing classrooms, and outlines several options, including reopening some schools.

Although overall student growth in the district has been slow, the superintendent's report predicts that elementary school enrollment--which has increased 23%, from 4,043 in 1980-81 to 4,977 in 1986-87--will continue to grow steadily in the next five years until enrollment reaches 5,800 in 1991.

"The changes in our district have not been abrupt, there have been no peaks and valleys," Supt. Kenneth L. Davis said. "But we are at the point where we are having difficulty placing elementary school youngsters, and if the projections are right, we will need to take another look at the organization of our school district."

8 Schools Closed

In 1980--when the district closed seven elementary schools and one junior high school, and integrated grades seven through eight into the district's two high schools--the school board agreed to wait five years before preparing another report or considering further changes, Davis said.

Other suggestions outlined in the report include installing more portable classrooms, converting one of the two high schools into a seventh- through eighth-grade junior high school, and reopening one of the closed schools as middle school for grades six through eight.

Davis completed the report in December after discussing options with parents from each school during the spring and early fall.

The public will have a chance to discuss the recommendations at the board's Thursday meeting and also at a series of public hearings that will be scheduled at the meeting, Davis said.

The district, which was formed in 1952 to accommodate the postwar baby boom, serves Bellflower and the northern portion of Lakewood.

Protests From Parents

The 1980 reorganization--which primarily involved expanding the two high schools to include grades 7 through 12--triggered protests from parents who were worried that sending younger children to school with high school students might create a variety of social problems.

Davis said parents were concerned about "physical and psychological intimidation of younger students by older students, sexual overtures by older boys to physically mature seventh- and eighth-grade girls, and socially negative role models by some older students involved in the use of alcohol and drugs." But he stressed that most of these problems never materialized.

Nevertheless those concerns resurfaced last spring when a group of parents asked the board to consider reopening a school building to accommodate grades seven through eight and to change Bellflower High School in Bellflower and Mayfair High in Lakewood back to traditional 9th- through 12th-grade high schools.

"For some reason we have have never been able to minimize those fears among parents," Davis said. "We have had little or no problems at the high schools since we went to this configuration and I think most parents realize that, but if they had their druthers they would all want to go back to (grades) 9 to 12 high schools. That is one of the major concerns the district will be addressing in the next few months."

Enrollment Crunch

So far, the student increase at the elementary schools has not affected high school enrollment, Davis said. But as the elementary school students move up a grade, the surge will eventually reach the high schools, creating an enrollment crunch that could require the reopening of some schools.

Enrollment at both Mayfair and Bellflower High, which has a combined enrollment of 3,723, has decreased slightly by 224 students since 1981, according to the report.

"If this bulge at the elementary school level stays with us, one way to solve the problems is to open an elementary school or change the organization of the district to accommodate this bulge as it moves to the secondary-school level," Davis said.

In 1980, when the district responded to the decline in enrollment by shutting schools to reduce administrative costs, parents and residents filled board meetings that were often the scenes of heated debate over which schools to close, district officials said.

Members who were on the board six years ago recalled months of meetings filled with angry parents and residents.

'Trying and Hectic Time'

"It was a very trying and hectic time for the district," said board President Larry Ward, who was also president in 1980. "Now we are faced with opening schools, which is a more pleasant task than closing them, but it is still going to be a problem because we have to find the best way to do it and please the community."

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