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Unification Bid Rejected by Hermosa School Board : Education: The proposal had called for the district to be joined with the school systems in Manhattan and Redondo beaches. Hermosa trustees saw little benefit in the consolidation.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hermosa Beach school trustees, in a blow to neighboring beach city school districts, decided this week to shelve unification plans and continue operating their one-school district independently.

In reaching the 3-2 decision Wednesday night, trustees argued that Hermosa Beach would be giving up too much and not receiving enough in return by agreeing to combine resources with school systems that serve Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach.

Previously, Hermosa trustees had favored total unification, a plan that would join the four school districts currently serving the three cities: separate elementary school districts in each of the cities, and the two-campus high school district that they feed into.

School officials in Redondo and Manhattan have supported split unification, which would create two kindergarten to 12th-grade districts. One would serve Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach and would take over Mira Costa High School. There would be a separate kindergarten to 12th-grade district in Redondo Beach, which would include Redondo Union High School.

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The Hermosa School Board’s decision Wednesday came after a consultant’s report showed that the total unification option previously supported by Hermosa was more costly than the split-unification option favored by the other districts. In defending total unification, Hermosa school officials had argued previously that their district would have a better voice in a larger district including all the beach cities, than if it were annexed only by the Manhattan Beach district.

Hermosa trustees Wednesday acknowledged that their tiny school district will have to solicit private funds through a foundation to remain financially healthy in the future.

Representatives of the other districts said they are disappointed with Hermosa Beach’s decision but not surprised.

Status quo in Hermosa Beach forces the other districts to pursue unification by gathering enough signatures to qualify it for a local vote.

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Any plan that receives the signatures of 25% of the registered voters in the cities involved and receives approval by the State Board of Education would then have to be placed on a local ballot.

“We would have loved to have had Hermosa Beach vote in favor of split unification with Manhattan Beach, but we were not surprised by their vote,” said Manhattan Beach Supt. Jerry Davis. “We will reassess and decide what we want to do.”

Redondo Beach School Board President Bart Swanson said he was not surprised by Hermosa’s decision to hold out.

“You have a small, one-school district that is basically holding up the masses,” he said. “It’s an absurdity.”

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Unification has been debated in the beach cities for years and most recently in earnest since 1989, when the South Bay Union High School District invited the elementary districts to consider merging to shore up sagging finances in all the districts.

But rivalries among the three cities have prevented a consensus. Redondo Beach trustees, for instance, decided soon after the talks began to create their own unified district. The other three districts hired a consultant, who supported the split unification plan in May. The Redondo Beach elementary system has about 4,000 students, and the South Bay Union High School District serves 3,700.

But Hermosa Beach, which has about 700 students, has refused to submit to the two-district plan, partly because of a reluctance at being swallowed up by the larger 2,200-student Manhattan Beach district.

“I’m being selfish,” said board member Mary Lou Weiss, in arguing that there is no compelling reason for Hermosa Beach schools to give up self-government now.

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The consultant’s report, which was prepared for all the districts but Redondo, showed that split-unification, the plan Hermosa opposed, was more cost efficient than total unification, which Hermosa supported. A split Manhattan-Hermosa district would be solvent five years after implementation, while a three-city unified district would run out of money by 1993-94, according to the report.

Board members Lynne Gonzales, Susan Meyer and Mary Lou Weiss voted for the status quo, while board member Greg Kelsey and board President Joe Mark favored unification.

UNIFICATION AT A GLANCE THE ISSUE

Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach each have their own elementary school district. When children in the three cities reach ninth grade, they move on to the separately run South Bay Union High School District.

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The high school district, however, has had financial problems, and the single kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school in Hermosa Beach is overcrowded. Three out of four districts--all but Hermosa--agree reorganization is necessary.

THE OPTIONS

Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach favor split unification, in which two kindergarten-through-12th-grade school systems would be created, one in each of those cities, and the high school district would be dismantled. Redondo Beach would take over Redondo Union High School; Manhattan Beach would merge with Hermosa Beach and they would take over Mira Costa High School, which is in Manhattan Beach.

Until this week, Hermosa Beach had wanted total unification, in which all four districts would merge along the boundaries of the high school district to create one 10,000-student, unified district.

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South Bay Union High School trustees initially wanted total unification, but have since agreed to support any plan on which the elementary boards can agree.

THE ARGUMENTS

Split Unification

Pro: Split unification would protect local control for at least two of the districts, while saving money through economies of scale. Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach already share a common approach to testing and educational programs. All students--especially those in resource-poor Hermosa Beach--could take advantage of a broader range of electives.

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Con: Hermosa Beach is much smaller than Manhattan Beach and could lose some political clout on a joint school board. The breakup of the high school district would create some disruption of curricula at the high school level. Some also argue that split unification would be a stopgap measure on the way to inevitable total unification.

Total Unification

Pro: Total unification would allow efficient operation and the broadest educational options. A larger district might also mean more influence at the state level.

Con: Once again, the larger cities might dominate a joint school board. The new district also would have to reconcile differences between Redondo Beach’s testing and educational philosophy and that of Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach, creating some disruption in curricula at the grade-school level.

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