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Topics / EDUCATION : Election Creating School District Invalidated

March 24, 1994|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The 1992 election that created the San Gabriel Unified School District was ruled invalid this week, leaving the fledgling district's future in doubt.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Diane L. Wayne tentatively ruled Tuesday that the state Board of Education should have allowed Alhambra voters to participate in the election that resulted in the secession of San Gabriel from the Alhambra City And High School District.

Although the San Gabriel district unified two years ago, it still enrolls its 1,300 high-school students in the Alhambra schools. Ninth-grade students are scheduled to attend San Gabriel Unified's new Gabrielino High School in September, at what used to be Jefferson Intermediate School. San Gabriel has always had its own district for kindergartners through 8th-graders; the 1992 vote added high school education.

To pay for the conversion, a $29-million bond issue is on the ballot April 12. A similar bond measure failed last year.

"Any plans for a San Gabriel Unified high school can't go forward," said Mia E. Montpas, an O'Melveny & Myers attorney handling the case for the Alhambra district against the state. "If San Gabriel wants another unification vote, it must include the people in the Alhambra district."

Wayne's tentative ruling held that it was unconstitutional to deny Alhambra voters a say in unification when the secession would significantly affect their district through loss of students and state revenue.

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San Gabriel's unification would cost Alhambra $1.8 million in state money tied to the 1,300 high-schoolers it gets from San Gabriel. State board officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday. But an attorney for San Gabriel Unified said Wayne's tentative ruling was issued before oral arguments Tuesday and the judge had promised to reconsider the issue before a final decision this week. Pete Carton said Wayne made the promise after learning this is the first time a unification vote has been challenged afterward and that the invalidation of the district would leave no school agency in San Gabriel because the elementary district was dissolved as part of the unification vote.

"If (Wayne) issues this tentative decision, it will cause five elected officials to be thrown out of office and a whole bunch of people to be unemployed," he said.

Carton said if the ruling stands and the state does not appeal, Joseph Crawford, the district's assistant superintendent for business services who has joined the suit, would appeal.

San Gabriel officials said next month's ballot measure would be unaffected by the legal battle.

Alhambra school board and district officials heralded the tentative victory Tuesday. "This is a very favorable decision if she keeps to the tentative ruling, which is practice," said Dora Padilla, an Alhambra school board member.

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