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Peninsula Schools Reject Petition : Legal Battle Draws Near Over Secession Campaign

December 10, 1987|BOB WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

The Palos Verdes Peninsula school board and a group that wants to secede from the district moved closer to a legal confrontation this week.

Trustees unanimously rejected a request from the group, the East Peninsula Education Council, that the board members sign their petition, which would initiate the secession process.

The trustees said that splitting the four-city unified district would cause education for all children on the Peninsula to deteriorate.

Leaders of the council said they will immediately begin a drive to qualify the petition by obtaining the signatures of at least 25% of the registered voters in the proposed new school system east of Crenshaw Boulevard.

Infusion of Cash

For its part, the board, which is looking for a quick infusion of capital to help overcome million-dollar annual deficits, moved ahead with its plans to sell or lease Miraleste High School on the east side by appointing a 10-member advisory citizens committee.

Spokesmen for the parents group said they will try to block that move through a court injunction that would, if granted, force the district to keep Miraleste open until the group has had a chance to set up an independent district.

Early last month, the board voted unanimously to close Miraleste in June and consolidate its students at the remaining two high schools in the 9,800-student district. It expects to save $1 million annually in operational costs and gain about $400,000 in new revenues from the sale or lease of the property.

In response, the parents group, contending that the sparsely populated east side was being unfairly deprived of its neighborhood schools, announced plans to establish a new system and said it had raised $100,000 for the expected legal battles against the district.

Four schools on the east side have been closed over the past decade as the district lost more than 40% of its enrollment. One of them, La Cresta Elementary, also served students in the central portion of the Peninsula.

At the Monday night board meeting, which was packed by Miraleste boosters and several hundred district teachers demanding pay raises, a decision on selling the already closed Dapplegray Intermediate School was delayed in the face of a flurry of objections from speakers.

Robert E. Lyon, chairman of the parents group's legal committee, told the trustees that their decision to close Miraleste "changed the rules" on selling the nearby Dapplegray campus in Rolling Hills Estates. Therefore, he argued, the board is legally obligated to schedule new public hearings before proceeding with the sale.

Lyon, in an interview, explained that Miraleste-area parents were willing to accept the loss of Dapplegray as a means of saving Miraleste. Indeed, he said, the parents proposed the plan under which Dapplegray's intermediate students were reassigned this fall to Miraleste to boost enrollment on the high school campus.

"But within two months, before the Miraleste plan had a chance to prove itself, the board voted to close the school," Lyon said. "That changes the circumstances with respect to selling Dapplegray."

Asked what the Miraleste group will do if the board proceeds with the sale, Lyon said: "We will sue."

Crucial elements in the plan to set up a new district, Miraleste boosters say, are keeping the high school open and preventing the board from disposing of any school sites that the proposed system may need.

Janet McAuley of Palos Verdes Estates and other speakers challenged the legality of a proposed development agreement for Dapplegray negotiated between the school district and Rolling Hills Estates. The agreement would give the city the right to acquire about 10 acres for parks and recreation in return for rezoning the rest of the 43-acre site for residential construction.

McAuley, who has two children attending Miraleste, argued that the district's $6-million asking price for Dapplegray is far below the potential value of the property. Moreover, she said, the deal with Rolling Hills Estates violates provisions of the Naylor Act, which governs dispositions of surplus school property.

Further action on the development agreement was held over to a special board meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the district's Valmonte headquarters.

Teacher salaries were not on the board agenda, but during the public comment period, a contingent of educators at the meeting applauded speakers who noted the high levels of academic achievement in the district and the relatively low pay levels of the faculty.

Out of 43 school districts in the county, Palos Verdes ranks 27th in maximum salaries--$37,406, compared to $42,570 in first-place Alhambra. When special bonuses are included in the totals, Palos Verdes sinks to 38th.

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