The Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education, concerned over declining enrollment and a shortage of money, has voted to close three schools and sell an undeveloped school site to turn its valuable property into cash.
The decision was made Tuesday night at a public hearing in the Santa Monica High School cafeteria where the board considered six proposals aimed at liquidating some of the district's most valuable property.
"We have compelling financial problems and very few options," President Connie Jenkins said. "It seems really cold to sell school sites for development, but remember, the income we receive will go to the benefit of all the children."
About 100 parents were at the meeting, most of them from Edison and Madison elementary schools.
The board spared Edison but voted 4-3 to close Madison at 1018 Arizona Ave. It also approved sale of about 80 acres of undeveloped land in the Malibu area. The vacant property was purchased years ago as a site for a junior and senior high.
The board agreed to relocate students from Cabrillo Elementary to nearby Malibu Park Junior High. The district plans to lease or sell Cabrillo.
It also agreed to relocate students from John Muir Elementary School in Ocean Park. Muir has been criticized by parents because it is located near the busy intersection of Pico and Ocean Park boulevards.
Supt. George Caldwell said the changes were recommended with the aim of "improving the district's use of resources in a cost-effective manner."
The closures were recommended last year by Sage Institute Inc. of Westlake. Sage said the district should close the schools to combat declining enrollment, make the greatest use of facilities and maintain ethnic balance. Since the 1980-81 school year the district's enrollment has declined by 1,370 students, to 9,944 from 11,314.
Last year Sage negotiated a 66-year joint-occupancy lease for the district in which a developer agreed to build a $2-million school headquarters and pay the district almost $1 million a year in rent on three prime locations owned by the district.
Renting Old Headquarters
The properties are a former alternative high school at 1651 16th St., a maintenance yard at 900 Colorado Blvd. and the district's headquarters at 1721 Fourth St., which is across the street from Santa Monica City Hall.
Plans for the new headquarters have been submitted to the city Planning Commission, and an office complex on the 16th Street site has been approved. The city has also approved construction of an office complex at the Colorado Boulevard site.
"The kinds of decisions they are making are significant decisions that will keep this district abreast of the times and put them in profile with the community," said Joel Kirschenstein, president of Sage.
The decision to close Madison was painful for parents.
Maria Medina, whose children attend Madison, was one of several parents to speak against the decision. "Why change what is already OK?" she asked the board with the help of a Spanish interpreter. "If you close the school, it will create transportation and safety problems for our children."
Sympathy for Parents
"I sympathize with the parents here tonight," board member Mary Kay Kamath told the audience. "If it were only a question of small sizes and money, I'm not sure I would vote for it. I do believe that we can have a better education program by consolidating Madison with some of the neighborhood schools."
Board member Bob Holbrook disagreed. He said he did not believe the board had demonstrated "a compelling need to close the school." Holbrook was joined by Della Barrett and Peggy Lyons in voting not to close the school. Jenkins, Kamath, Dick Williams and Dianne Berman voted for closure.
The board also considered a proposal to close Edison, which has a declining enrollment and is considerd segregated because of a 70% Latino population. The board instead promised to keep the school open and set up a task force to study the segregation issue.
Ocean Park parents asked the board to close John Muir because the school is located at the busy intersection. The board voted to dispose of the site and build a school at another location.
"The children in Ocean Park are being educated on the busiest intersection in Santa Monica and are subjected to excessive noise, automoble fumes, dangerous crosswalks," said Liucija Baskauskas, a parent.
In other action, the board put off a decision on when it will reconfigure school grades. The district plans to make all elementary schools kindergarten through fifth grades. Junior high schools will be sixth through eighth grades and high school will have ninth through 12th grades. The change will increase the enrollment at the senior high to 2,850 students.