Board Delays Setting School Boundaries : Consultant Needs More Time to Analyze Residents' Many Objections

Times Staff Writer

The Palos Verdes Peninsula school board set a new date for a decision on revising intermediate-school attendance boundaries after a consultant reported this week that he needed more time to deal with an unexpectedly large number of objections from residents.

Tom Smith of Michael Broadman Associates, who had previously been granted a week's delay in filing the environmental impact report, told the board that his firm's analysis of issues raised by the community would grow to five thick volumes before it was completed.

The trustees agreed to wait until May 20 to receive the report and act on boundary changes made necessary by the scheduled closure this spring of the Margate campus, one of four intermediate schools in the district.

The meeting on boundary changes will be held at 8 p.m. in the board room at the Valmonte Administration Center, 3801 Via La Selva, Palos Verdes Estates. Trustees will meet there earlier in the day to take up the regular agenda of district business.

Residents Criticized

Several trustees, reflecting an increasingly hostile board attitude toward opponents of the closure and related moves--including possible use of the Margate campus as a special school for teen-agers--sharply criticized the Margate-area residents for causing "irreparable damage" to the district's children and educational programs.

They said the May 20 date would leave district officials barely enough time to reassign students and teachers among the remaining three intermediate schools--Malaga Cove, Ridgecrest and Dapplegray--and make the necessary adjustments in support services before the start of the next school year.

Trustee Rose Lachman said she felt a "tremendous anger and frustration" over what she claimed is a deliberate effort on the part of the Margate residents to "impede the education of the district's children."

Trustee Patricia A. Johansen characterized the controversy as "a war of attrition, a question of who can last the longest." The real issue, she said, is not the changes in attendance boundaries, but the closure of the Margate school.

Community Polarized

Nazeer Ahmed, a leader of the Margate group, agreed that the dispute has "polarized the community." He warned that the conflict could only become more bitter if the board "continues to ignore the legitimate concerns of the community." Decisions that adversely affect the Margate neighborhood, he said, "will be undone" through board elections in November or through legal action.

Ahmed's group, which views the board's attitude as "self-righteous and arrogant," has contended that relocation of the district's continuation high school to Margate would seriously affect the "quality of life" in the neighborhood and cost property owners "millions of dollars" in the market value of their homes.

A Margate group sued the district last year in an unsuccessful attempt to forestall the closure of their neighborhood school, then reorganized to fight proposals to establish the continuation school on the Margate campus.

Margate is one of several sites being considered by the district as a permanent home for the school for teen-agers with special educational needs. The school was temporarily housed in portable classrooms on the Rolling Hills High School campus last fall after Rolling Hills officials won an 11th-hour court judgment--based largely on technical flaws in the district's environmental impact report--barring its location at the La Cresta Elementary School in their city.

La Cresta on List

However, La Cresta is back on the list of potential sites for the continuation school, with the district taking more care in preparing a new environmental report. At the same time, the district is having the La Cresta site appraised with a view to possibly selling all or part of it.

The impatience of the trustees with community opponents is heightened by concerns over an $800,000 deficit in next year's budget. District spokeswoman Nancy Mahr said planners are looking for ways to trim that amount from funds allocated to instructional supplies and support services, but are having difficulty squeezing any more money from budgets that were severely cut in previous years.

If savings of about $300,000 are not realized by consolidating intermediate-school operations on three campuses next year, the district will have to find ways of offsetting that additional amount, Mahr said.

Countering claims by some Margate parents that their neighborhood campus is being closed to provide quarters for the continuation school, Mahr said the district's master plan, revised in 1981 to deal with a continuing decline in enrollment, calls for the closure of an intermediate campus in the 1985-86 school year.

She said it was not financially possible to establish a separate campus for the continuation school until the state's 1983 School Reform Bill provided funds for that purpose.

Meanwhile, she said, the district's costs are mounting in the "battle of environmental impact reports." She estimated costs for attorneys and consultants so far at $90,000 and said another $60,000 may be required to resolve the disputes over the Margate closure and the relocation of the continuation school.

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