A parents' group has fired the first volley in what is expected to be a costly and protracted legal battle with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District over splitting the district into two independent systems.
Attorneys for the East Peninsula Education Council began the battle Friday by filing a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court asking for a preliminary injunction against closing Miraleste High School and selling the Dapplegray Intermediate campus, which was shut down last spring.
The district, which faces annual million-dollar budget deficits in the next few years, has given a high priority to disposing of the sites in order to cut operating costs and gain interest from the proceeds.
Plan to Secede
Some parents on the east side of the Peninsula say the board's decision early last month to close Miraleste went one step too far in stripping their area of its neighborhood schools. Most of the district's 9,800 public school students live in the other area, the west side. The parents organized and announced plans to secede and form a new district of up to 2,000 students.
Robert Lyon, chairman of the east side group's legal committee, said the suit alleges that trustees acted capriciously and arbitrarily in deciding to close and sell or lease the two campuses. No date for a hearing has been scheduled.
The suit also argues that the school board failed to file reports required under the California Environmental Protection Act and has "wasted public funds" by entering into a "sweetheart deal" with Rolling Hills Estates for development of the Dapplegray site, Lyon said.
It accuses Rolling Hills Estates officials of violating the state's Brown Act by not giving timely notice or holding required public hearings on the proposal to sell Dapplegray.
Lyon said attorneys hired by the group--which says it has raised more than $100,000 to cover legal costs--will soon begin a "vigorous discovery action that will look closely into district financing, land negotiations and budgeting practices."
The group wants to keep the status quo and see if a new school system can pass muster with county and state officials and voters.
That machinery is in motion, he said, including the initial step of circulating a petition that must be signed by at least 25% of the voters in the proposed new district east of Crenshaw Boulevard. He estimated that the entire process will take about 18 months.
In the meantime, Lyon said, the group's strategy is to prevent the scheduled closure of Miraleste next spring and the sale of Dapplegray. "We need those two sites, and their loss would seriously impair our efforts," he said.
District spokeswoman Nancy Mahr said the lawsuit, which was served Friday, will be turned over to attorneys. As for filing environmental impact statements, she said, a new state law that became effective in 1985 exempts school districts from having to file such reports when they close campuses and reassign their students.
No Sweetheart Deal
As for the charge that the board acted arbitrarily in deciding to close and dispose of the two east side properties, Mahr replied: "The trustees acted in what they strongly believe is the best interests of school children throughout the Peninsula."
She also rejected the east side group's claims of a sweetheart deal between the district and Rolling Hills Estates. A pending development agreement would indeed give nine acres of the 43-acre Dapplegray site to the city, along with the right to acquire another acre from the developer selected to build as many as 61 residences on the property, she said.
But the trustees concluded that by working out a deal with the city in advance, the district could get more money from developers--a minimum of $6 million, she said.
Lyon played down the advantages of that course of action, and said the district should use the formula provided in the state's Naylor Act, which requires a city to pay up to 25% of the fair-market value for surplus school property.