One after another, the five trustees of the Palos Verdes Peninsula school district--some on the verge of tears--reviewed the available options and concluded that the system doesn't have enough money and students for three high schools.
The audience--about 450 people packed into the gym at the Ridgecrest Intermediate School Monday night--waited patiently for the statements to wind down to what seemed the inevitable conclusion. Most cheered and applauded as the trustees voted unanimously to close Miraleste High School.
Pressure to Save School
"We can't afford a political compromise that reduces the quality of education in all our schools," said Trustee Jeffrey N. Younggren, referring to pressure from Miraleste parents to find some way to save their neighborhood school, either by continuing a seventh- through 12th-grade configuration there or by converting it to an all-intermediate campus.
Younggren said he and his family have been particularly sensitive to that pressure, since he is the only trustee who lives on the east side and his son Brad attends Miraleste.
"Brad is a strong supporter of Miraleste, but he is a stronger supporter of his father," Younggren said, his voice breaking. ". . . my loyalty must be to education, not to geographical location."
Board President Sally Burrage recalled that the trustees listened to community views at 13 hours of public hearings and through hundreds of personal contacts. She said she read more than 850 letters offering advice on how to deal with the financial problems of a district that has lost 60% of its enrollment since the early 1970s.
The best solution now, Burrage said, is to consolidate the district's 4,000 high school students at its two largest campuses and retain the traditional grade configuration, which includes sixth-through-eighth-grade intermediate schools.
"I'm so very sorry," she said, her eyes glistening with tears as she addressed "the people at Miraleste that I care very much about."
Commute Next Fall
As a result of the board's decision, reached after two months of study and three public hearings, high school students living on the east side of the Peninsula will commute next fall to either the Rolling Hills campus, near the center of the district, or to Palos Verdes High on the west side.
Students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades will attend the Ridgecrest or Malaga Cove intermediate schools on the western side of the hill, though it has not been settled how school assignments selections will be made.
The district plans to sell or lease the Miraleste property.
A Miraleste group, responding to what one member called "discrimination against us," announced that it will proceed with efforts to set up an independent school district on the east side. The group is sponsoring a community meeting at 7:30 p.m. today in the Miraleste gym.
Several of the trustees appealed to Miraleste supporters to accept the board's decision and work with the district to resolve transportation and other problems brought on by the consolidation.
Parents Pay for Buses
Currently, some elementary schoolchildren ride buses paid for by their parents. It has not been decided whether the same system would be used for the former Miraleste students who will travel across the district to school.
"The eventual benefits will be worth the pain," said Martin C. Dodell, who is retiring from the board after six years. He said the consolidation will enable the district to refocus its efforts on rebuilding educational programs.
District planners said that closing Miraleste will save about $750,000 a year in operational costs. They estimate that an additional $450,000 should come from leasing the Miraleste property or from interest earned from the sale of the land.
The money will be a big factor in overcoming a projected deficit of $2 million in next year's $33-million budget for the 9,800-student district, officials said.