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School Board Votes to Reopen 6 Middle Schools Closed 10 Years

October 20, 1988|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

LA MIRADA — Under pressure from parents for more than eight months, the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District board Monday voted unanimously to reopen six middle schools that had been eliminated more than a decade ago.

The seven-member board asked administrators to come up with a financial plan to reopen the schools, which had been closed because of declining enrollment. The plan, which could include budget cuts or a special property tax to help finance the schools, is scheduled to be presented at the Nov. 21 board meeting.

The decision drew mixed reactions from a crowd of nearly 300 that had gathered at the La Mirada Civic Theatre.

"Procrastination! You're just procrastinating," a few members of the audience shouted.

'This Is Just a Pacifier'

"The board promised us it would make a decision this week," parent Joy Howard said in an interview. "This is just a pacifier."

But another parent, Pat Shelton said: "I think we have made progress. The board has at least acknowledged it wants middle schools."

Shelton said about 50 parents started lobbying the school board about eight months ago.

"The main thing is, we made a decision to open up middle schools. That's a commitment," board President Jesse Luera said in an interview. "We won't be able to open schools next year but maybe in 1990."

The 18,000-student district now has 20 elementary schools for kindergarten through seventh grade, three high schools with grades eight through 12 and one continuation school for students who have dropped out of regular high schools. The enrollment was about 20,000 when the middle schools were closed.

Pupils' Maturity Considered

Many parents are concerned that eighth-graders are not emotionally or physically mature enough to attend high schools, and that seventh-graders are too mature for elementary school, Shelton said.

"What we were looking for was a transition period, the middle school," said Ron Boatright, a parent.

Marie Plakos, assistant to the superintendent, said the staff will spend the next month studying estimated costs, number of schools to be reopened and a possible starting date.

"We will be looking at many possibilities, including possibly selling some (closed) sites, cutting the budget and reallocating the money to pay for converting to middle schools," said Plakos, who is coordinating the project.

A week ago, the staff presented the board with six possible plans. Plakos said the staff is basically considering a recommendation to designate six schools for grades six, seven, and eight. Two closed schools would be reopened. The district would convert four other schools now being used for elementary classes or adult programs, she said.

All of the plans would cost money for books, supplies, buses and remodeling the buildings. The financing proposals ranged from selling school property to using lottery revenues to asking voters to approve a fee on property owners.

The most expensive plan, which would cost an estimated $5.1 million, would include selling two schools not in use and taxing property owners $83.73 a year.

None of the plans were discussed by the board during Monday's meeting.

Supt. Bruce Newlin said there has always been public sentiment to reopen the middle schools. "We agree, but how to finance them is the problem," he said.

The district's enrollment climbed to more than 30,000 during the mid-1960s. When enrollment declined in the 1970s to about 20,000, the district closed 15 schools, including the seven junior high schools, "to keep the budget balanced and maintain a good program," Newlin said.

The majority of the closed schools, including Excelsior High School and Benton Middle School, are being leased to private schools and other organizations.

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