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New Enrollment Figures Rekindle Closure Debate

Times Staff Writer

A new projection of enrollment for the next five years supports the Palos Verdes Unified School District’s decisions to close some schools and consolidate a smaller number of students in fewer campuses, district officials said this week.

The new figures were immediately challenged, however, by a parents group that opposes further school closures on the east side of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The group has maintained that the district will need all its remaining facilities to accommodate future growth in enrollment.

Public Workshop

The school board said it will consider community views before adopting a final report on projected enrollment. An initial public workshop with the district’s demographer, Donald King, was set for 7:30 p.m. Monday at district headquarters.

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King forecasts that enrollment will bottom out at 8,979 students next year after steadily declining from 17,800 in 1973, and then slowly rise to 9,228 in 1993. Enrollment is now 9,178.

Those figures are even lower than the ones King presented to the school board Monday night. The demographer said he had learned that his original numbers for kindergarten students included about 100 pre-kindergarten youngsters. The higher numbers, when projected through the years, had indicated about 800 more students by 1993.

The district’s previous demographer, the late Frank Ferguson, offered tentative projections a year ago that came close to King’s new figures. His projection for 1992, for example, was 8,947 students, compared to King’s 9,095.

Ferguson was discussing his projections at a school board meeting last December when he collapsed. He died a few hours later, apparently as a result of an aneurysm.

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During the 15-year decline in enrollment--attributed to lower birth rates and escalating real-estate costs that kept out younger families with children--the district closed seven of its 20 campuses. A year ago, the school board voted to close Miraleste High School on the east side of the peninsula, but that move was blocked in court by a group of Miraleste parents. An appeal by the district is pending.

The group, called the East Peninsula Education Council, also is petitioning to break away from the district and set up a separate system. A decision by the State Board of Education is expected in February.

Nancy Bolton, an east-side resident who has been doing demographic studies for the parents group, said she found apparent inconsistencies in the projections announced by King on Monday. For example, she said, King’s figures for Miraleste alone show a continuing growth to 1,031 students by 1993, whereas his projections for a split-off district indicate that Miraleste would have only 695 students by 1993.

However, district spokeswoman Nancy Mahr said that the split-off district, which generally would be bounded on the west by Crenshaw Boulevard, would have a smaller area from which Miraleste could draw students. She said King’s projections for Miraleste alone include students who live outside the proposed new district.

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A year ago, Bolton projected a substantially higher growth rate in the district’s student population. Her figures then indicated that enrollment would bottom out at 9,479 next year, then rise to 10,553 by 1992. In subsequent years, enrollment might rise as high as 15,000, she said.

But in a telephone interview this week, Bolton said turmoil and confusion over Miraleste’s fate have prompted some parents to transfer their children to private schools, causing a sharp drop in the number attending public schools.

“It isn’t that we have fewer students on the peninsula,” Bolton said. “They have just moved over to private schools.” She said such students will probably come back after the Miraleste issue is settled and parents’ confidence in the public school system is restored.


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