An election-eve decision on the emotion-charged issue of school consolidation is expected to be a major factor at the polls Tuesday when Palos Verdes Peninsula school district voters choose two trustees from a field of seven candidates.
Incumbent Jack H. Bagdasar is seeking a second four-year term, and Trustee Martin C. Dodell chose not to run again after six years on the five-member board. The two posts will be filled by the two candidates who receive the most votes.
By settling the question before the election, the board hoped to minimize school closures as a campaign issue. But the prospect of losing a major campus, after seven closings of smaller schools in the last decade, has made consolidation a hot topic in the campaign. Passions heated up even more when an analysis by Supt. Jack Price last week pointed to Miraleste High School as the most likely campus to be closed.
A write-in candidate, financial analyst JoAnne Schoetzow, jumped into the race two weeks before the election when she heard that Rolling Hills High School might be the one to close.
Miraleste parents, who persuaded school trustees to start a 7th-through-12th-grade configuration at their school this year to boost enrollment, are threatening to pull their children out of the district if the plan is abandoned and their campus is closed. About 260 youngsters from the closed Dapplegray Intermediate School have been shifted to Miraleste.
Critics of the plan say it's a political move to placate Miraleste on the east side of hill, and parents in other areas are resisting any move to change their neighborhood high schools to the 7-12 configuration. Of the candidates, only incumbent Bagdasar will cast a vote at the 7:30 p.m. board meeting Monday in the district's Valmonte headquarters. He said the trustees will, "beyond any doubt," decide on a major consolidation plan to bring facilities and programs into line with the 9,800-student district's shrinking enrollment.
But Bagdasar, like several other candidates, says he is keeping an open mind on the big question of which of three high schools to close until the board completes its review of all the options.
"I vote Monday, the public votes Tuesday," said Bagdasar, a former district teacher and administrator. "It's a tough position to be in, but I'll vote my conscience and let the chips fall where they may."
Even though they won't vote Monday, the other candidates say they realize that what they have said--or not said--on the consolidation issue will be weighed in the balance when voters mark their ballots Tuesday.
"Some of us have chosen not to take a position, and for my part I can live with that," said Barbara (Mimi) Horowitz, a longtime school and community volunteer worker. "The current board members have taken it upon themselves to make the decision, and at this point they are the most knowledgeable and qualified to do that."
Mortgage banker Steven T. Kuykendall also deferred to the board's judgment, but after declining to take a position himself through most of the campaign, he said this week that he is "leaning toward" closing Miraleste.
Only two candidates, banker Joseph P. Sanford and college student Eric Engstrom, have come out solidly for closing Miraleste, the smallest of the district's high schools. They say the others also should be willing to show their hands before the election.
"This is a critical issue for the schools and the community," Sanford said. "People should be able to ask any of us, 'Hey, how do you stand?' and get a straight answer."
Here is a summary of the candidates' backgrounds and school views, in the order in which their names appear on the ballot:
Barbara (Mimi) Horowitz, 45, of Rancho Palos Verdes; district resident for 13 years. She was a high school teacher in Pennsylvania before moving with her family to this area. Her son, a UCLA student, attended district schools.
The only alternative to consolidation, Horowitz said, is a continuing deterioration in educational standards and possible bankruptcy. She said local donations and volunteer workers have helped keep the schools going, "but we still get 80% of our money from Sacramento and ultimately that's where the funding problem must be solved."
After years of lobbying for the district, Horowitz said, she has the skills and contacts needed to promote local interests in the state capital. "I have served in the trenches and I know this district and community," she said.
Horowitz said reassigning junior high students to the Miraleste campus this year has provided program benefits for some youngsters, in addition to boosting enrollment at the school. But the 7th-through-12th-grade configuration, if tried districtwide, still would leave too few upper-grade students at the three high school campuses, she said.
Horowitz, whose community and school activities have made her one of the most prominent volunteer workers on the Peninsula, said running for the board is another way for her to serve.