Three peninsula school board candidates announced this week that they have stepped down as leaders of a parents' group that is seeking to split the district and that they will campaign on a platform of keeping the district intact.
Barry Hildebrand, Marianne Kipper and Peter Gardiner said they were resigning from the board of directors of the East Peninsula Educational Council (EPEC). If elected, the three said they would work to unify the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District and keep Miraleste High School open.
EPEC was formed in late 1987 after the present school board members proposed closing the east side high school because of declining enrollment.
The three candidates also made it clear that one of their first orders of business as board members would be to hand Supt. Jack Price and other top district officials their walking papers.
"We are convinced that a clean sweep needs to occur in order for a new management team to be effective," the candidates said in a letter to EPEC President Donna Perrin.
Jeffrey Younggren, the current school board president who is seeking reelection, was reportedly on vacation and could not be reached for comment. Marlys Kinnel, the other incumbent seeking reelection, called the trio's pledge to oust top district officials "unfortunate."
"(It) does not set a very positive feeling about a campaign," she said.
One of the other two school board candidates, Brigitte Schuegraf, said she also believes there should be changes in the district's top management, including the superintendent's post.
"I wouldn't mind if (Price) wasn't here any more, 100%," she said. "That is our main difficulty here."
Candidate Brenton Goodrich could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The Miraleste closure issue surfaced again Monday night when school board members issued an ultimatum to EPEC, giving the group until next Monday to accept the district's offer to keep Miraleste open if students are allowed to attend the high school of their choice. Besides Miraleste, the district operates high schools in Rolling Hills Estates and Palos Verdes Estates.
"We want a yes or a no," board member Sally Burrage said.
The ultimatum caught EPEC members by surprise. EPEC Secretary Ted Gibbs said the group had been led by board members to believe that the district was willing to negotiate with the aid of a facilitator and that open enrollment would begin in the 1990-91 school year. EPEC has expressed concern that open enrollment this year could drain pupils from Miraleste before the school has a chance to prove itself and attract pupils from nearby private schools.
EPEC had met privately on at least two occasions with Younggren, and a press release announcing the negotiations had been drawn up, according to several EPEC members. Younggren was expected to sign it when he returned from vacation, they said.
However, in a letter sent to EPEC leaders Tuesday, Jack Bagdasar, the school board's vice president, said the board believes a facilitator is unnecessary and that further negotiations should involve all board members and occur during meetings open to the public.
"We are all very upset and very distressed and very angry," Gibbs said. EPEC will deliver its answer to board members on Monday, he said.
The board's ultimatum is the latest salvo in the long and bitter fight between EPEC and the school district. Last month, the state Board of Education issued a split decision on whether voters should be allowed to determine if a new district should be formed. The board is scheduled to hear the matter again when it meets Sept. 7 and 8.
Even if the state panel had voted against the election, Miraleste would have remained open for the term that starts this fall. A Los Angeles Superior Court order in May, 1988, overturned the decision to close the school and mandated that the district produce an environmental impact report on school closings throughout the district.
Burrage said this week that a draft of the report is complete and district lawyers are reviewing it. "We want it perfect," she said.
However, district spokeswoman Nancy Mahr said the draft was not complete, and, hence, the district would not release it.
In an interview, Gardiner said that he, Hildebrand and Kipper were not attempting to disassociate themselves from EPEC and its activities by resigning as directors. A major reason they decided to resign was because the group, under its nonprofit status, is prohibited from making political endorsements, he said.
'Work to Reunite'
"We thought it would be helpful for everyone if they were not getting tangled up endorsing candidates," Gardiner said. "The second reason is we wanted the peninsula to know we want to work to reunite the peninsula."
Burrage, who is not seeking reelection because she is moving to Orange County, maintained that EPEC's activities, including its secessionist drive, belie the trio's pledge to unify the district.
"Why are they fighting the district?" Burrage asked. ". . . What they are saying and what their actions are are two different things."
Burrage said at Monday's board meeting that she had decided to manage the campaigns of incumbents Younggren and Kinnel and to support Goodrich.
"I really think the campaign is not going to be pleasant," Burrage said. ". . . I'm very glad to be leaving."