The West Covina school board, acting on cost-cutting proposals to close up to five schools, voted Tuesday to shut down one of the district's high schools, but deadlocked on the recommended closure of two junior high schools and two elementary schools.
Frustration was evident among school officials and about 260 community members at the meeting as nagging questions and new suggestions forced the board to postpone a decision until next Thursday.
"It was very frustrating that all of a sudden at the last minute there were brand-new questions and brand-new proposals," said board member Karen Welts. "We needed to bring questions up before the night of the vote."
Quoting a co-worker at the insurance company where she works, Welts said: "We need to make sure analyzation doesn't lead to paralyzation."
Because one school board member resigned Monday because he has moved from the district, the four members left on the board could not reach decisions on three of five proposals. Originally, the board set this week as the deadline for a decision to give district administrators time to plan the moves.
Although the board agreed to reconfigure grade levels and close one high school, the consensus broke down over which schools should be closed.
The board deferred deciding whether Edgewood High School or West Covina High School should be closed. It could not decide which elementary schools to close and whether to close both junior highs.
By a unanimous vote, the board did approve new grade configurations recommended by a special study committee in January. The district will shift from the current intermediate-school format, with grades seven and eight attending a junior high school, to a middle-school configuration starting in September.
Under the new system, kindergartners through fifth-graders will attend elementary schools, sixth- through eighth-graders will attend one or more middle schools and ninth- through 12th-graders will attend the high school.
But that configuration depends on closing one high school and two elementary schools. And board members could not agree on the School Use Planning Committee's recommendation to convert the closed high school into a 2,000-student middle school.
In a series of votes, board members Welts and Elias Martinez supported closing one of the high schools, Hollencrest and Willowood intermediate schools, and Cortez and Merced elementary schools.
But while board President Joe Mount and William J. Brutocao agreed that one of the high schools should be closed, they voted against all other closure plans. They said they needed more information.
Martinez urged them to consider the consequences of not making a decision.
"The longer we postpone making decisions, the greater the anxiety will become," Martinez said, adding that a vote to close any school could be amended in the future. "All we would be doing is buying ourselves an option, or adopting an option, and getting the extra time in the subsequent school year to make a more thorough assessment."
But Mount said no decision should be made until all questions are answered.
"And we will continue to do that until we are satisfied to bring it to a vote," Mount said.
Brutocao complained that he did not have enough information on the recommendation to create one middle school and did not agree on the elementary schools targeted for closure by the committee. He said the committee had overstepped its original authority and had not provided a full rationale for its conclusions.
The committee considered school closures and grade configuration plans as part of the district's fiscal recovery plan.
After a deficit in the 1986-87 school year, the district was forced to borrow $3.3 million from the state. As a condition of the loan, the district must repay $1.5 million next year.
On Jan. 19, the committee made its recommendation, which targeted West Covina High School, Hollencrest and Willowood junior high schools and Merced and Cortez elementary schools for closure. The West Covina High campus would become the district's middle school, while Edgewood High School would be renamed and become the district's only high school.
The committee estimated that the district could save a maximum of $1.7 million, less any expenses the consolidation would involve. The savings could be put toward the estimated $2.7 million that must be cut from the 1988-89 budget. Committee members and district officials have said students would be better educated in schools that are full. Currently, the high schools are operating at half capacity and the elementary schools at 70%.
Brutocao, in objecting to one middle school with 2,000 pupils, offered an alternative. He proposed using the closed high school campus and either Willowood or Hollencrest as middle schools.
"I'm not sure whether a single, consolidated middle school with an enrollment of 2,000 is in the best interests of this community," he said. "An awful lot of people will prefer a smaller middle school."