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The Decision Is Finally at Hand: Should Miraleste High Be Closed?

November 01, 1987|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

At least seven options will be on the table Monday night when Palos Verdes Peninsula school district trustees decide how to put fewer students on fewer campuses.

Trustees, who have vowed to base their decision on the objectives of program quality and financial stability, started with three options in early September. In the course of public hearings and board discussions, the approaches grew to seven.

But district planners say the choices narrow inexorably to one: Close a high school. Close Miraleste High School.

The 9,800-student district has lost more than 60% of its enrollment, the planners say, and can no longer afford three high schools. And since Miraleste is the smallest, it should be the one to close.

Miraleste also is in a sparsely populated area on the east side of the hill and, contends Supt. Jack Price, "schools should be where the students are."

But few observers of the consolidation struggle are predicting which option, or combination of options, the trustees will choose. They say the board--on the eve of an election in which voters will choose two trustees--is under pressure to weigh the political and social consequences of a major school reorganization.

"The district will break apart, if they don't keep a school on the east side," said Tom Jankovich, a leader of a residents group that is studying ways of setting up an independent school system in the Miraleste area.

Early this year, the group persuaded the school board to create a 7th-through-12th grade configuration at Miraleste as a way of boosting enrollment there.

About 280 youngsters from the closed Dapplegray Intermediate School are now attending Miraleste with 860 high school students, making a total enrollment of 1,140. By comparison, the district's two largest high schools, Rolling Hills and Palos Verdes, each have about 1,600 students in the eighth through the 12th grade.

In the interests of "fairness, equity and safety," Jankovich said, the Miraleste 7-12 plan--one of the seven options--should now be expanded districtwide. He suggested that in return the east side would "really get behind" a renewed effort to pass a parcel tax to help close million-plus gap in the district's finances.

In March, voters narrowly rejected a flat property tax that would have raised $2.2 million annually for five years. Disappointed backers noted a poor voter turnout in the Miraleste area. The proposal received 61.5%, or 7,792 votes, when it needed two-thirds to pass.

Fairness and equity are issues, Jankovich said, because the east side has already lost one intermediate and three elementary schools since the enrollment decline began to force closings in 1980. Seven out of 23 campuses, which had a combined enrollment of 17,800 in the early 1970s, have closed.

Safety and traffic congestion are issues, Jankovich said, because closing Miraleste would leave the east side with only the Mira Catalina Elementary School, forcing older students to travel up to 16 miles to schools on the west side.

District officials, noting that the majority of students live in the central and western portions of the district, say even more students would have to commute at least as far under several options that would spare Miraleste.

Those options include preserving Miraleste as a high school while closing either Palos Verdes or Rolling Hills campuses, keeping Miraleste as a high school while converting one of the other high schools to an intermediate school, or converting Miraleste to an intermediate school and dividing the district's sixth- through eighth-graders between Miraleste and Malaga Cove school on the northwest tip of the Peninsula.

In an analysis of the options, Price lauded efforts to make the 7-12 plan work at Miraleste this year, but said the district's basic grade configuration (K-5, 6-8 and 9-12) provides the best educational benefits, a view that he said is supported by a recent state study.

Price recalled five priorities set by the school board: Improved programs, cost reductions and potential income from the lease or sale of closed schools, the best grade configuration, demographics and the most efficient use of facilities.

In terms of savings and income, Price said in his analysis, any of the consolidation approaches could produce roughly $1.2 million, which is the district's projected annual deficit over the next five years.

But closing a high school is the only option that fits all five criteria, Price concluded, and closing Miraleste is the best way to exercise that option.

Price reported that high school enrollment this year has fallen to 4,100 at the three schools, about 200 below earlier projections.

New forecasts range from 2,700 to 3,900 students in five years, with 3,300 as the most likely, Price said.

The other options being considered are: to relocate all intermediate students at one high school; to convert Ridgecrest Intermediate to a large elementary school; to convert Rolling Hills to a 10th- through 12th-grade high school, while making Miraleste and Palos Verdes high schools 7th- through 9th-grade junior highs.

The board meets at 7:30 p.m. at the Valmonte District headquarters.

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