No Accord in Dispute Over Future of Miraleste

Times Staff Writer

The Palos Verdes Peninsula school board and a parents group exchanged compromise proposals this week aimed at resolving disputes over the future of Miraleste High School and the group’s effort to split the district into two systems.

As in previous reconciliation efforts, however, both compromises were rejected.

The parents group, the East Peninsula Education Council, said it still wants to set up a separate system, but offered to be “very flexible” in negotiating a division of district property if the board agreed.

The trustees, whose decision last year to close Miraleste sparked the secession movement, countered with a proposal to convert Miraleste to a sixth-through-eighth-grade intermediate school and ordered a feasibility study.


No High School

The district’s proposal would still leave no high school on the east side of the peninsula, but students could attend east-side schools until eighth grade. Under the old plan, only first through sixth grades would be taught at east-side schools.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Donna Perrin, the parent group president, after a discussion of the proposals at a board meeting Monday night. The trustees “missed the heart of a very exciting idea, which was to structure a win-win solution in which both sides could get what they need.”

Countered district spokeswoman Nancy Mahr: “We don’t see two districts as any sort of compromise.”

The parents council, which formed after the school board’s decision in late 1987 to close Miraleste, takes an either-or position: Continue kindergarten-through-12th grade education on the east side of the peninsula, or form a separate school district.

The school board maintains that with its declining enrollment, the district cannot afford to keep Miraleste open as a high school, and that splitting the 9,100-student district would lower the quality of education for all students, Mahr said.

The board’s efforts to close Miraleste have been blocked until at least next school year, pending the outcome of legal maneuvers by the two sides. Meanwhile, the state Board of Education is reviewing the east-side group’s petition to create its own district and is expected to issue its ruling in early March.

If the state agency concludes that legal criteria for setting up a new district have been met, it will call an election to settle the issue. It will also decide whether the vote will be districtwide or limited to voters in the proposed new district, which is generally bounded on the west by Crenshaw Boulevard.

Only 25% of Voters

Perrin, the council president, conceded that the sparsely populated east side, which has only about 25% of the peninsula’s voters, is unlikely to prevail if the vote is districtwide.

However, she contended that east-siders have a right to decide by themselves whether to set up a separate district in their area. In the unsuccessful effort this week to gain the school board’s support for that position, the council, in a letter to the board, offered “to consider any reasonable proposal” for a “fair and equitable” division of the district’s reserve funds and property.

In the absence of a negotiated settlement, Perrin said, the division of assets would be governed by state law, to the potential disadvantage of the district. She said the settlement would have to be approved as special legislation to ensure that it is “legally binding and enforceable.”

Assemblyman Gerald Felando (R-San Pedro) has offered to carry the legislation, Perrin and Tom Jankovich, the council’s chairman, said in their letter to the board.

East-Siders Skeptical

Perrin, in a telephone interview, said east-siders are skeptical about the trustees’ proposal to convert Miraleste to an intermediate school. For one thing, she said, the change would not be binding on future school boards and, for another, the parents council is committed to keeping Miraleste open as a high school.

That goal can be achieved in the existing district, the parent leaders contended in presenting a second alternative to the board. They said the district’s financial picture has improved, making it feasible to continue operating Miraleste along with two larger high schools on the west side, Rolling Hills and Palos Verdes.

Mahr said nothing has changed, in terms of finances and educational programs, that would justify operating three high schools.