State Rejects Secession of Lomita Schools

Times Staff Writer

The State Board of Education has rejected a proposal to allow Lomita to break away from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The board's action last Friday, on a 9-1 vote, ended a campaign that was launched more than two years ago by Lomita city officials and parents who sought to increase control over their local schools.

Lomita City Councilman Robert Hargrave, who has championed the secession movement, said he was "devastated" by the board's decision.

But he said this week that he would call a public meeting of supporters soon to review alternatives such as trying to join the Torrance or Palos Verdes Peninsula districts.

'Find Another Way'

"The board took just 10 minutes to wipe out two years of hard work," Hargrave said. "Now we need to regroup and find another way to achieve our goal of better educational opportunities for Lomita's children."

Robert Ragus, an assistant superintendent for the Los Angeles schools, said the district would oppose any other proposals by Lomita to break away from the Los Angeles district.

The key issue for the state board was whether forming a Lomita district would promote racial and ethnic segregation and discrimination. In a report to the board, Bill Honig, state superintendent of public instruction, said the proposed Lomita secession "would adversely affect existing desegregation programs" and urged that it be denied.

Honig's staff has estimated that 1,095 black, Asian and Latino elementary and junior high students would be among 1,378 displaced if the secession petition were granted. They would be sent to Los Angeles schools with high minority enrollments, which in the view of the staff, would promote discrimination.

NAACP Opposed

Los Angeles school officials and the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People also opposed the proposal. In a prepared statement, the Metropolitan Los Angeles branches of the NAACP said that the state board has an obligation "to alleviate school segregation in Los Angeles" and that the Lomita plan would promote segregation.

Hargrave, however, contended that secession would reduce minority enrollment in Lomita's three schools--Alexander Fleming Junior High, President Avenue Elementary and Lomita Fundamental Magnet--by only a few percentage points from the current minority level of 54%.

Lomita's population was 44% minority in the 1980 Census.

"We would have an excellent racial balance on our own," Hargrave said. "It's crazy to say that our enrollment, which is only a fraction of a percent of the total L.A. school population, could have any significant impact on desegregation problems in Los Angeles."

Hargrave said Los Angeles' "real worry is that if they let us get away, others will want to follow."

'Judgment Call'

Angie Papadakis of Rancho Palos Verdes was the single board member to side with the Lomita secession movement. She argued that whether secession would promote segregation "is a judgment call" and that Lomita voters should be given the right to decide the issue. If the board had gone along with the group's request, an election would have been called.

Other supporters of the Lomita proposal focused on their contention that Los Angeles school officials are unresponsive to their needs. "Because of the size of Los Angeles Unified we very rarely see our board members or the upper echelon of the bureaucracy," Hargrave said.

He said he had lobbied Papadakis and several other board members for the secession proposal. But he said that opposition from the Los Angeles district outweighed arguments made by supporters.

He said this week that the Lomita group has not yet formally broached the idea of a merger with officials of the Torrance and Peninsula districts. But he noted that both districts are struggling with enrollment declines, while the number of students in Lomita's schools increased 10% this year.

'Mutual Interests'

"I think we have mutual interests that we ought to explore," Hargrave said.

Jack Price, superintendent of the 10,500-student Peninsula district, said he believes his board would be interested in hearing a proposal from Lomita, but he said he could not comment further on the possibilities of a merger.

He said some residents of the Eastview section of Rancho Palos Verdes also have expressed interest in sending their children to Peninsula schools. Eastview was annexed several years ago by Rancho Palos Verdes, which is one of four cities served by Peninsula schools, but the largely residential area remained in the Los Angeles school district.

Torrance district officials could not be reached for comment.

Times staff writers Tillie Fong and Bob Williams contributed to this story.

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