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A White Flight Fear in Ruling : Education: Pasadena officials are concerned about a court decision that clears the way for a vote to allow Greenwood Addition to transfer to the San Marino school district.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At face value, the Pasadena Unified School District will probably lose just one student and one small neighborhood, thanks to a court decision last week permitting a March 5 school-district transfer election in an area just north of San Marino.

But Pasadena officials look beyond this redistricting skirmish. They fear the urban district is losing its war to stop white flight to private schools and public school districts, such as San Marino, that serve wealthier areas.

“There is a steady erosion of the district’s white population and an increasing isolation of the racial minorities who make up the school district,” said Pasadena schools attorney Carolyn Carlburg. “This transfer is a part of that trend.”

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The Pasadena district serves Pasadena, Altadena, Sierra Madre and some unincorporated county areas. The areas are 56% Anglo, 22% black, 15% Latino and 7% Asians and other minorities. The school district is 38% Latino, 38% black, 19% Anglo and 5% Asian and other minorities.

Carlburg said the difference can’t be explained just by assuming that the Anglo families have grown children.

The San Marino Unified School District, which has encouraged the transfer, is 50% Asian, 48% Anglo and 2% Latino. Most of its minority students belong to well-heeled families. But in the Pasadena district, many of the minority students come from low-income families with little education, Carlburg said.

Attorney Ralph Hofer says the white flight argument is nonsense, at least in this case. Hofer represents his affluent neighborhood in an unincorporated area around San Pasqual Street. “We just don’t identify with Pasadena,” he said.

The 21.54-acre Greenwood Addition, as the disputed area is known, contains 71 homes and about 46 children. According to the county Office of Education, only one of the school-age children attends a Pasadena public school. A few attend San Marino schools on interdistrict transfers; the rest are preschool age or in private schools.

In his decision, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian upheld a State Board of Education election order and also approved the election boundaries. The balloting will involve only the 100 or so voters who live in the disputed territory.

As a result, a majority vote for the transfer is virtually guaranteed, and the area would join the San Marino district on July 1, 1992. The San Marino Unified School District board has supported the transfer.

“We were pleased with the judge’s decision and believe he upheld all the arguments presented by State Board of Education and ourselves,” said Hofer, who has two preschool children.

The Pasadena district had asked the judge to overturn the state board and deny the transfer petition, or alternatively, to include all Pasadena and San Marino district voters in the election.

In addition to the white-flight issue, Pasadena argued that the board had violated its own rules. Once decided, a transfer case is closed unless the petitioners can bring in new facts, Carlburg said.

The board first denied the transfer petition June 8, then approved it Sept. 14.

The primary “new fact” in dispute was the homeowners’ contention that a Pasadena district lobbyist circulated potentially misleading information to state board members the night before the board rejected the petition. Carlburg said the district lobbyist did nothing improper and nothing to warrant reopening the case.

But Sohigian ruled that the state board had broad latitude to interpret what justified rehearing a petition. And although Pasadena’s arguments may contain merit, the board’s decision was not “arbitrary, capricious, unlawful or procedurally unfair,” the judge wrote.

Hofer and fellow resident Clifton Smith also successfully defended the transfer petition against assertions that the homeowners were merely seeking to increase their property values through the change. Their neighborhood is linked socially and geographically with San Marino and its schools, Hofer said.

The San Marino City Council has encouraged the transfer, but recently turned down a neighborhood request to annex the Greenwood Addition and about 20 other nearby homes. Hofer said the homeowners hope to become part of San Marino eventually.

The San Marino school board sees the transfer as bringing more money into the financially strapped district. State aid per student is at least $3,100, San Marino Supt. Gary Richards said. At least 30 pupils would return to public school if the transfer occurs, Smith said.

Smith, an attorney, estimated that he and his neighbors donated time and spent more than $50,000 to pursue the transfer.

The Pasadena district has not tallied its attorneys’ fees yet, nor decided if it will appeal. Besides the thousands spent in fighting the transfer, the district worries about a greater cost if other areas transfer out.

“There were people in the courtroom watching to see what would happen,” said one Pasadena official. “There are two or three groups who want to do the same thing.”

BACKGROUND

The Pasadena Unified School District has a policy of fighting any district territory transfers that could affect the proportion of Anglo students in the urban district. It has apparently lost its bid to retain a tiny neighborhood just north of San Marino. The school district’s attorneys prevailed, however, in another case. Last June, the State Board of Education denied a petition from Sierra Madre parents to transfer to Arcadia Unified. A transfer movement also has arisen in the Rowland Unified School District. A group of Walnut parents there seeks to switch to Walnut Valley Unified. The county has denied the Walnut parents’ petition, and the group is appealing to the state board.


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