Despite mounting resistance from parents defending their neighborhood schools, the Torrance school board this week forged ahead with school closure plans, voting for the second time in the last 15 days to close one of its campuses.
The second site to fall victim to what trustees and administrators called the inexorable necessities of declining enrollment is the Jefferson Middle School on the west side of the Torrance Unified School District.
Starting next fall, most of Jefferson's approximately 430 students will go to the Bert Lynn Middle School. Delthorne area students now attending Jefferson, along with sixth graders who would have enrolled at Lynn next fall, will be shifted to the Madrona Middle School.
Students from the Delthorne area, located east of Hawthorne Boulevard, who are already enrolled at Lynn will be allowed to finish out their middle-school years there. All Delthorne eighth graders will have the choice of going on to either Torrance High or West High.
Two weeks ago, the school board voted unanimously to close the Newton Middle School and move its students to the Calle Mayor campus. At Monday night's session in the Levy Curriculum Center, the board split 3 to 2 on the latest closure decision.
But the dissenting trustees--board President David Sargent and William R. Blischke--said their votes did not indicate that they were in favor of sparing Jefferson. They said they favored an alternative plan in which both Jefferson and Lynn would close.
Under that plan, one of six offered by the district administration, students at Jefferson and Lynn would go to the Victor Elementary School, a large campus with a capacity of 1,020 students compared to 780 at Lynn.
Sargent said the larger campus would accommodate Delthorne students and allow more room for possible growth in the neighborhood's middle-school population.
However, Victor's 650 youngsters would have to be dispersed to the Anza and Towers campuses, and the board majority balked at a plan that could involve moving as many as 1,700 students from campuses they now attend.
"We've had 12 years of turmoil at the elementary level and I just don't think it would be fair to disrupt the lower grades again in dealing with the problem at the middle-school level," Trustee Carol O'Brien said.
The district has closed 12 elementary schools in the original system of 42 campuses since 1967, when enrollment peaked at 34,200. Current enrollment is about 19,000.
The six-hour session Monday night opened with a parade of youngsters and parents waving American flags and posters that said: "S.O.S. Save Our Schools."
Speakers from a standing-room-only audience estimated at 350 to 400 people urged the board to reconsider its earlier decision to close the Newton school and to spare Jefferson.
"Please listen to us," said Kathy Houston, a Jefferson parent. "Leave things as they are. Don't take our schools away from us."
The parents rejected the official view that inefficient, under-enrolled schools must be sacrificed in the effort to maintain a strong academic program for all of the district's students.
If the schools are closed, they predicted, the district will be caught short in future years as more families with school-age children move into the neighborhoods. Several speakers said their own informal surveys indicated a coming baby boom. They urged district officials to conduct a census to verify their information.
Sargent, the board president, said the district does not have the staff and money to take a community census. Moreover, he added, past efforts to verify baby-boom expectations have been disappointed--including one neighborhood census in which he participated as a parent several years ago.
"But if the parents believe that there are a lot of preschoolers out there, I would urge them to do their own door-to-door survey and see what they can come up with," he said.
He said such information would figure in the district's long-range planning and possibly influence decisions on what to do with the closed schools. Four campuses have already been placed in reserve in the expectation that they may be needed in the future, he noted.
Annette Utpadel, a Newton parent, said residents of her neighborhood plan to take up Sargent's challenge.
"We have more than 200 parents who are willing to do anything they can to save the schools," she said.