Foes in School Civil War Live to Fight Another Day

Times Staff Writer

North Orange County's educational civil war prompted a heated verbal battle in a legislative committee Wednesday, but no clear victory was won by either side.

At issue was a bill focusing on Yorba Linda's 11-year effort to secede from the Fullerton Union High School District.

Secession advocates from Yorba Linda and Placentia, wearing colorful buttons to denote their stance, hoped a majority on the Senate Education Committee would vote for the bill. Opponents from Fullerton wanted the committee to vote it down.

In the end, the bill's sponsor, Sen. William Campbell (R-Hacienda Heights), averted a showdown by removing the bill from a vote until early May. He opted for the delay after some senators on the committee said they would vote against it.

Doesn't 'Take Kindly' to Bill

"I commend you, Sen. Campbell, for not bringing the bill to a vote because I don't think the votes were there," said Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Chula Vista). Deddeh was the most outspoken critic of the bill, having announced early in the hearing: "I do not take kindly to this kind of legislation. . . . This is something you ought to fight down there (in Orange County), not here."

Campbell said the three-month delay would allow more time for the three school boards involved--Yorba Linda (Elementary) School District, Fullerton Union High School District and Placentia Unified School District--to meet and iron out their differences over the bill.

Campbell's legislation would allow the Yorba Linda elementary district, which has no high school of its own, to merge into the neighboring Placentia Unified School District. The net result, he said, would be to put Yorba Linda high school-age students closer to their high schools.

Under the current arrangement, students in western Yorba Linda attend Troy High School in Fullerton, some driving or riding a bus seven miles or more each way while passing through the Placentia district.

"There's no other situation like this in the state," in which students are sent to a school in a district not adjacent to the one they live in, Campbell told the committee.

Nonetheless, senators on the education committee told Campbell that they saw no pressing need to change existing state law on school mergers to accommodate Yorba Linda.

Longer Trips Elsewhere

Sen. Walter W. Stiern (D-Bakersfield) said he was unimpressed with the distance Yorba Linda high school students must travel into Fullerton. He said that in Kern County, some students must travel more than 70 miles a day to and from their schools.

Another education committee member, Sen. Paul B. Carpenter (D-Cypress), said there was no compelling need for Yorba Linda to secede. Carpenter noted that the secession advocates generally agree that the Fullerton high school system offers good education.

"Those of us who represent Orange County would say the quality of Fullerton education is the best," said Carpenter, who represents part of the Fullerton Union High School District. "So what's the compelling reason (for Yorba Linda to secede)?"

Yorba Linda parents, when they testified later, said they think their children are discouraged from extracurricular activities because they're so far from their high school.

In rebuttal, James Bremer, a Yorba Linda resident who is principal of Buena Park High School in the Fullerton district, told the committee that surveys show that Yorba Linda high school students are more active in after-hours school events than are students who come from connected elementary school districts. Bremer said his own son attends Troy High and has had no trouble taking part in outside activities, including sports, although his son's bus travels about eight miles each way to get him to school daily.

Broken Promises Cited

Secession advocates, including Campbell, said Fullerton had reneged on promises over the years to build Yorba Linda its own high school. Yorba Linda, said Campbell, has now given up its long fight for its own unified school system and instead wants to join Placentia Unified. Campbell and others noted that Placentia Unified already is the school system for eastern Yorba Linda--which comprises about 78% of Yorba Linda's geographic area.

Campbell said he will amend his bill to allow a referendum on the proposed merger by voters in Yorba Linda and Placentia. He said Fullerton would not be included because its residents make up 88% of the existing district population and would thus overwhelm Yorba Linda. Yorba Linda, said Campbell, is already suffering from "a tyranny of the majority."

The secession bill, to survive, had to pass the committee in its present form or die at the end of this month. But Campbell is using a technical device to extend the life of the bill; he added an urgency clause to the measure, allowing it to be considered until May 9.

But a Campbell aide later acknowledged that an urgency clause makes a bill more difficult to pass because two-thirds of both the Senate and Assembly membership must approve such bills. Normal bills only require a simple majority to pass.

Although disappointed, the Yorba Linda secession supporters said the legislative delay will not lessen their fighting spirit.

Sara Lee Martin, president of the Yorba Linda School Board, had this statement for the committee: "I can assure you that this issue is flooding Yorba Linda, and it will never go away. If you deny us at this point, we will be back."

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