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Los Angeles

Wiseburn Schools Secession Plan Clears a Hurdle, but There's a Catch

May 02, 2002|SANDRA MURILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A county agency Wednesday supported a proposal to allow a small South Bay elementary school district to form its own high school and break away from the Centinela Valley Union High School District.

But one of the agency's recommendations to the state--which has final say over the matter--will make the split more difficult to get past voters.

Because a Wiseburn Elementary School District split would raise taxes in three other cities, the County Committee on School District Organization recommended that all voters within the Centinela Valley district, and not just those in Wiseburn, be able to vote on the secession issue once the state approves the proposal.

Secession supporters were concerned that a districtwide vote would be a major blow to their campaign because it might prompt voters in other elementary districts to oppose their efforts.

Some committee members acknowledged that a districtwide vote would make a Wiseburn break more difficult, but said the fairest thing to do was to allow all those affected by Wiseburn's unification have a vote.

"If you go with the whole district [vote], I can tell you right now, we can probably just forget it," said committee member John Nunez, who opposed the entire proposal.

The committee's point of contention is a $59-million bond measure that Centinela Valley homeowners and businesses repay through a tax on their property's assessed value. Property owners in the four elementary districts that feed into the Centinela Valley district--Wiseburn, Hawthorne, Lennox and Lawndale--pay about $15 a year for every $100,000 in property value.

The Wiseburn district, which makes up about 40% of the area's assessed property value and includes corporations such as Boeing and Xerox, pays a large chunk of that bond measure. If Wiseburn breaks away, Hawthorne, Lennox and Lawndale are left with the rest of the bill.

According to a report prepared by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, Centinela Valley voters would pay an extra $10 per $100,000 of assessed property value if the Wiseburn district were to split away now. That figure, however, could rise to $75 per $100,000 in assessed valuation as Centinela Valley continues to spend the $59-million bond.

But proponents of the Wiseburn K-12 district say the tax increase is minimal and are confident that the other elementary school districts would support them in their efforts to create smaller, safer schools.

With only about 6,500 of the 54,000 registered voters in the Centinela Valley district, Wiseburn cannot do this alone.

"We're talking $25 a year when most people in the area are interested in breaking up a district which has been unresponsive to the needs of the community," said John Peterson, a secession backer.

Nilo Michelin, a member of the Hawthorne School Board and organizer of that district's own K-12 unification effort, said he would like to discuss the effects Wiseburn's unification plans would have on his district.

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