WEST COVINA — Ending a month of emotional debate, the Board of Education has voted to close Edgewood High School, Hollencrest and Willowood intermediate schools and Cortez Elementary School.
Over the vocal protests of dozens of Edgewood students who were among about 400 people attending Thursday's board meeting, the four-member board voted 3 to 1 to convert Edgewood into a middle school while retaining West Covina High School as the district's only secondary school.
Despite a plea for understanding from the board, many Edgewood students criticized the decision.
"It's stupid of them to make West Covina the high school," said Arenda Myers, a 17-year-old Edgewood senior. "Edgewood is the overall better school."
Like others, she noted that a special committee had recommended that the district make West Covina a middle school and retain Edgewood as the high school.
Steve Novarro, a West Covina student who is a non-voting member of the school board, admonished the crowd that the decision should not be based on emotions or school spirit.
"I'd like to remind you this isn't a football game, but a board meeting," Novarro said to resounding boos from Edgewood supporters.
The board agreed with Supt. Jane D. Gawronski that West Covina's larger campus and centralized location made it the better choice.
"I think the recommendation is consistent with what we have all wanted all along, which is educational excellence," said board President Joe Mount.
Board member Elias Martinez, who cast the only vote against closing Edgewood, argued that the board should follow the recommendation of the School Use Planning Committee.
"Why did we appoint a committee in the first place?" he asked.
Martinez added that the consolidation plan would help the district, regardless of which high school is retained. "This is not winners or losers," he said. "We are all the winners or we are all the losers. It is up to us to decide which we are going to become."
The schools ordered closed by the board will be shut down before September.
The board followed the recommendations of the committee and Gawronski in agreeing to close Hollencrest and Willowood intermediate schools and Cortez Elementary School.
The board deferred a decision on whether to close a second elementary school. The committee had recommended that Merced Elementary School be closed. Gawronski, however, proposed that Merced be retained, primarily because it already has more students than two elementary schools not being considered for closure.
The objections of board member William J. Brutocao and strong support for Merced also were factors in her recommendation, she said. As an alternative, she suggested that either Wescove or California elementary schools be closed.
That would allow the district to keep open a school whose students consistently rate high on educational tests, she said.
"That's the tragedy of school closures," Gawronski said. "You don't close them because of test scores, you close them because of declining enrollment."
Gawronski said she made her recommendations in an effort "to keep students going to the closest neighborhood school."
The decision ends a month of anxiety over which schools would remain open.
On Jan. 19, the special committee had recommended closing up to five schools and changing grade configurations as part of a plan to help repay $3.3 million the district borrowed from the state to cover a 1986-87 deficit. Under the terms of the loan, the district must repay $1.5 million next year.
The committee targeted West Covina High School, Hollencrest and Willowood intermediate schools and Merced and Cortez elementary schools for closure. Committee members, representing students, parents, teachers and administrators, said the two high schools had been operating at 50% capacity and the district's nine elementary schools and two junior high schools at about 70% capacity.
Students would get a better education if they attended schools that were fully utilized and offered broader curriculums, committee members said.
However, thousands of students, parents and teachers rallied to try to save their schools in a series of town meetings. At the first meeting, held in the West Covina High School auditorium, most of the 350 people who turned out denounced the proposal to close their school.
Parents of students at Merced also argued strongly against closing that campus.
School board members agreed to listen but said they would not be pressured into a decision that would hurt the district financially or educationally.
Gawronski had asked the board to decide on school closures by Feb. 9 so that officials would have enough time to make the necessary changes before school begins in September.
At the meeting on Feb. 9, the school board voted to close one high school and reconfigure the district's grade levels. But it deferred a decision on which high school would be closed and deadlocked on which of the two elementary schools and two intermediate schools should be closed.