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Schools Superintendent Supports Proposal for High School in Malibu : Education: But some parents attending a hearing said they fear the plan will hurt the quality of courses at 'Samohi.'

February 14, 1991|KAREN DENNE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The superintendent of schools threw his support behind a new Malibu High School this week, announcing his recommendations to a crowd of about 200 people.

Eugene Tucker, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, read his 18-page, single-spaced report Tuesday night to a restless crowd at the McKinley Elementary School auditorium. The school board is expected to make a final decision on the school March 25.

Tucker said the high school would be a small, alternative college-prep school serving students in Malibu and Santa Monica. The only high school in the district now is Santa Monica High, nicknamed "Samohi."

About 30 speakers were either cheered or hissed by the audience as they addressed the board. Some supporters of the high school wore neon pink and green shirts that read "Parents for Malibu High," while opponents had blue and white "Save Samohi" stickers.

The two communities that make up the school district are sharply divided on the high school. Malibu residents say it is necessary so their children don't face a two-hour, round-trip bus ride, and Santa Monica residents say the Malibu campus will reduce the quality of students and number of courses at Santa Monica High School.

"Our children deserve to have a school that's reasonably proximate to their homes," said supporter Janet Yerby.

Malibu High School "could not offer the breadth or range of programs available at Santa Monica High School but would have other advantages unique to a small alternative school," Tucker said.

Most of the superintendent's recommendations agreed with those of the Malibu High School Study Committee. A committee report last November found that about 35% of school-age children in Malibu attend private schools, and suggested that a Malibu high school could lure them back to the district.

The school would be located at the 32-acre Malibu Park Middle School campus near Zuma Beach. Tucker recommended that it open in September, 1992, a year later than the study committee urged. The tentative plan calls for the school to open with just a ninth grade, and upper grades would be phased in one year at a time.

Tucker recommended that the maximum enrollment at Malibu High School be 900 students--100 more than what the committee recommended. That maximum is not expected to be reached until 1998, unless Malibu's population grows significantly.

Because the high school would be put on an existing campus that is now operating well below its capacity, no new construction would be necessary and the costs would be modest, Tucker said, although he noted that the school would "draw some general fund resources away from other district programs."

The advisory committee had estimated first-year costs at $85,000--for textbooks, start-up funds for student clubs, administrators and other staff. In addition, the library would have to be upgraded, at a cost of up to $125,000 over the first few years.

Opponents argue that the Malibu High School would be elitist--and that it is unfair to the rest of the district to place what is essentially a magnet school in a wealthy, white neighborhood. Tucker said Tuesday night, however, that "that is the most misunderstood portion of the proposal." He stressed that the Malibu school would be open to all district students and would have no admission requirements except student commitment to college preparation.

Malibu High School would initially not offer advanced placement classes or as many academic and elective courses as Santa Monica High because of its size. Tucker said arrangements could be made for students interested in taking advanced placement exams to participate in "distance learning," instruction via television hookups.

Some opponents contended that opening the Malibu school would cause a "brain drain" from Santa Monica High. One such critic was former Santa Monica City Councilwoman Christine Reed, who told Tucker and the board, "You appear to be worrying exclusively about the few complaining parents in Malibu, to the exclusion of a lot of completely freaked out people who are worried about the future of Samohi."

Tucker said Santa Monica High would lose about 13% of the incoming ninth-grade students to Malibu. But he also said that a large number of Malibu students would still attend Santa Monica High.

Tuesday night's meeting was the first of three public hearings on the school, one of which will be conducted in Spanish.

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