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School Panel Says It's High Time : Malibu: The area needs its own high school to stem enrollment losses and keep state funding, the school board is told.

November 29, 1990|BARBARA KOH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A college preparatory school in Malibu for grades seven through 12 could help relieve the district's financial woes by attracting students who would otherwise go to private schools, said a report presented Monday to the Santa Monica-Malibu school board.

The report by the Malibu High School Study Committee said 30% to 40% of school-age children in Malibu go to private schools, compared to a statewide average of about 11%. Enrollment has fallen more steeply at Malibu Park Middle School than at the rest of the district's schools, the committee noted, forcing Malibu Park to cut class offerings.

Many parents don't want their children commuting an hour each way to Santa Monica High, the district's only high school, the report said. "Malibu is a long way from Santa Monica these days, in terms of transportation, and it isn't getting any closer," committee Chairman Jeffrey Jennings told the board.

Currently, 342 Malibu students attend Santa Monica High, which has an enrollment of 2,775. Officials could not say how many Malibu residents are of high school age.

The report recommended that the Malibu prep school should open with a new ninth grade at the Malibu Park campus in the fall of 1991. Upper grades would be phased in one year at a time, with an ultimate enrollment of about 800 students. The report estimated that Santa Monica High's enrollment would drop to about 2,000.

The 32-acre Malibu Park campus now has about 300 students and can accommodate about 1,000.

Jennings noted that because of its relatively small size, the Malibu school will not have "as rich and varied a program" or as diverse a student mix as Santa Monica High. The committee recommended that the district actively recruit minorities for the school and provide bus transportation and interpreters when necessary.

The committee recommended no entrance requirement other than a willingness "to commit to the level of effort required to achieve success in a rigorous academic program."

First-year costs were estimated at $85,000 for textbooks, start-up funds for student clubs, adminstrators, and a Spanish-speaking recruiter. In addition, the library and science labs at Malibu Park would have to be upgraded.

Jennings said costs are not a serious obstacle because the school site already exists and because voters this month approved a $75-million bond measure for district renovations. He said the district would lose more money by not establishing the school than by establishing it because state funding is based on enrollment.

"People already are voting with their feet to leave the district," Jennings said.

Committee recorder Beverly Hammond said a survey of parents whose children attend Malibu Park or Webster Elementary School, also in Malibu, indicated that the district could collect more than $3 million in state funds over four years from the additional students who would attend a Malibu high school.

According to the survey, 58% of Malibu Park eighth-graders would attend a Malibu high school, Jennings said. He called this remarkable, given that Malibu High School "has no track record. . . . These people are in essence making a commitment to a high school that doesn't exist."

Four of the 29 committee members disagreed with the recommendations, saying they were concerned that a Malibu school would not be racially mixed, among other things.

Malibu resident Noel Korn wrote in comments attached to the report that the district should first investigate why Malibu parents are not enrolling their children at Santa Monica High. The commute is often blamed, he said, "yet Malibu parents do not hesitate to enroll their youngsters in private schools in Woodland Hills, Santa Monica, Bel Air. . . ."

Korn said the recommendation is simply "a proposal to establish a private school at public expense."

Public meetings on the plan will be held early next year, and the board should make a decision by early March, Supt. Eugene Tucker said.

The committee, formed a year ago, consists mostly of Malibu residents and activists, including Malibu City Council members-elect Missy Zeitsoff and Michael Caggiano. The council on Nov. 20 unanimously backed the the establishment of a Malibu high school.

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