Leaders of a movement to secede from the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District say they have collected about $50,000--half of what is needed--to fight a legal battle to establish an independent school district on the east side of the Peninsula.
Lois Karp, a director of the newly formed East Peninsula Education Council, said checks and pledges were collected at a community meeting Thursday night attended by about 1,500 people at Miraleste High School.
Tom Jankovich, the group's president, said about $100,000 will be needed for legal and other costs of the secession effort, which he said might take from 18 months to two years.
Karp said additional money is coming through the mail from residents upset by the school board's decision Monday night to close the Miraleste campus. The district plans to reassign Miraleste's 1,100 intermediate and high school students to campuses in the central and western portions of the Peninsula next fall.
Speakers told the community meeting that the group intends to seek a court injunction barring the district from closing Miraleste until the outcome of the secession effort is determined.
"We will meet with the board to reason with them," said attorney Jim Brooks. "If that fails, we will go to court to prevent our educational resources from being overrun before the petition process is completed."
Jankovich said the purpose of the campaign is "to give the community a chance to decide what you want for your kids. We haven't had a voice so far."
He and other speakers contended that the Miraleste area, which is partially isolated from the rest of the Peninsula by natural barriers, has had to bear the brunt of school closings brought on by declining enrollment in the district.
They said Miraleste children would be endangered if they had to drive or ride buses over the narrow, steep roads connecting the area to the western side of the Peninsula.
"Can you imagine a newly licensed teen-ager driving over the Portuguese Bend landslide?" said Susan Brooks. "Or a busload of intermediates trying to maneuver down Palos Verdes Drive East, the most dangerous road in the county?"
Donna Perrin said the western boundary of the proposed district would generally run along Crenshaw Boulevard and the landslide area.
The first step in seceding and forming a new district, she said, is to present a petition, signed by 25% of voters in the proposed system, to a county commission on school reorganization.
A basic question for the east side, said Peter Gardiner, is "whether we can afford to match what we've got now" as part of the Peninsula district.
After an analysis of costs and projected enrollment--"allowing for some Kentucky windage in the figures"--Gardiner concluded that the new district would have an "excellent chance of being wildly successful, but there are no guarantees."
No school administration or school board official spoke at the meeting, though board member Jeffrey Younggren, who lives on the east side in the Miraleste area, was in attendance.
School officials have said a legal battle over secession could bankrupt the district, harming the education of all children on the Peninsula.
After the meeting, several residents said the fate of the secession effort hinges on two factors: persuading enough people that a new district could provide their children with an equal or better education, and keeping Miraleste open until a new system can be formed.