School trustees in the South Bay's three beach cities Tuesday postponed a decision on whether to reorganize into two kindergarten-through-12th-grade school districts, after officials of tiny Hermosa Beach said they would propose a new tax rather than lose local control of their classrooms.
But at the joint meeting of the cities' elementary school boards and the high school district into which they feed, officials agreed that rising costs inevitably would confront residents with the question of dissolving the high school district and creating two unified beach city school systems.
That vote would not come before the end of the 1991-92 school year.
The meeting of the Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach city school boards and the South bay Union High School District marked the first joint discussion of the so-called unification issue since a consultant's recommendation last month to reorganize the four districts into two.
Terry McHenry, who was hired by three of the four districts to examine various configurations, recommended in May that the high school district be replaced with a Redondo Beach Unified School District and a Manhattan-Hermosa Unified School District. It is a plan that Redondo Beach has sought for the past year and a half. Manhattan Beach trustees joined them on Tuesday.
The high school district -- which initially wanted a single, consolidated school district -- has agreed to support any configuration on which the elementary districts can agree.
But Hermosa Beach's trustees said they are were reluctant to support the merger because parents in the smallest of the three communities fear they would be "swallowed up" if their district unified with neighboring Manhattan Beach.
"We're a small community," said Mary Lou Weiss, president of the Hermosa Beach trustees. "If you unify Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach, the ... control would be Manhattan control."
Joe Mark, another Hermosa trustee, added that at least half the parents attending public hearing on the issue favored maintaining local control of the city's one school, even if it means higher taxes.
Hermosa Beach parents have suggested several potential funding sources, including a foundation set up to pay for school programs, the sale of surplus school property and the passage of a "parcel tax" that would assess property owners a fixed fee and earmark it for education.
But trustees, both in Hermosa Beach and in the other districts, were skeptical Tuesday. Manhattan Beach trustees noted that they have a foundation similar to the one the Hermosa parents proposed, and it finances less than $50,000 a year worth of classroom programs and equipment -- a drop in the bucket compared to the amount it will take to end Hermosa Beach's ongoing budget problems, where the annual deficit is about $60,000. The district has been financing such spending by dipping into its reserves, but at the current rate that fund will be depleted in four years, Weiss said.
Weiss acknowledged that the city of Hermosa Beach has made several offers on the district's vacant South School site. But she said that proceeds from the sale, by law, could be used only for capital improvement and not for programs, and she added that the city so far has not been willing to meet the district's asking price.
Moreover, Weiss said, the value of Hermosa Beach's school property has been depressed by a local ordinance prohibiting such land from being used for anything but open space.
Even the parents pushing local control are doubtful the city will pass a parcel tax, which the trustees said they will try to put on the November ballot. Similar taxes, requiring a two-thirds vote for passage, were voted down last month in Beverly Hills and the Wiseburn elementary school district, which includes part of Hawthorne and an adjacent unincorporated area.
Barbara Dunsmoor, president of the Manhattan Beach board, expressed disappointment at the delay in reorganizing the beach cities' schools, adding that the fears of Hermosa Beach parents were based on misconceptions. She noted, for instance, that the two districts could merge under a governing board composed of two representatives from each city, with a fifth trustee elected at large, thereby guaranteeing Hermosa Beach an equal voice.
Redondo Beach trustees, meanwhile, said they will continue collected the 10,000 signatures they need to independently begin the unification process in their city. All four groups agreed to meet again in December.
*--* District/School 1986-87 1989-90 Enrollment Enrollment
HERMOSA BEACH CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT 646 720 Hermosa Valley School 646 720
MANHATTAN BEACH CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT 2,257 2,283 Manhattan Beach Intermed. 467 435 Grand View 520 482 Meadows Avenue 400 401 Pacific 490 560 Pennekamp, Aurelia 380 405
REDONDO BEACH CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT 3,589 4,021 Adams 387 354 Alta Vista 438 489 Beryl Heights 375 378 Birney, Alice McLellan 229 230 Hillcrest 324 369 Jefferson 230 282 Lincoln 665 739 Madison 240 351 Tulita 216 326 Washington 485 503
SOUTH BAY UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT 4,300 3,731 Mira Costa High 2,000 1,721 Redondo Union High 2,050 1,908 Pacific Shores Continuation 250 102
Source: L.A. County Office of Education: School District Reports