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Section Reaffirms Vote on Releaguing

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

An end to the long-running dispute over the addition of four Catholic high schools to public leagues was in sight Wednesday after two Southern Section controlling bodies reaffirmed votes to allow the move and an opposition representative said the issue would not be taken to court once internal appeals have been exhausted.

The section’s Executive Committee and General Council had been ordered by a three-member panel of the California Interscholastic Federation, after a hearing May 10, to again discuss the moves and provide documented reasons--or “findings”--to justify them. The CIF hearing was held as the result of an appeal by eight county school districts.

Wednesday’s special meeting at the Sequoia Athletic Club resulted in both bodies again voting in favor of placing Santa Margarita, Mater Dei and Servite (boys)/Rosary (girls) in public leagues.

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Trabuco Hills Principal Bill Brand, representing the Saddleback Valley School District, said he is uncertain whether county principals will appeal Wednesday’s decision to the CIF. District Supt. Peter Hartman has led the fight against the move.

But Brand also said the district had dropped plans to litigate.

“I’m not sure whether the principals will take the next step,” Brand said. “But we will work within the structure of the CIF and the Southern Section.”

He added: “We’ve been portrayed as someone opposing the CIF structure, as someone working outside the system.

“Obviously, litigation is expensive, and that’s a factor. Our direction is to support the CIF, not oppose it. I told (section Commissioner) Stan Thomas and the Executive Committee today that our intentions are to work within the CIF family.”

The Executive Committee vote was 10-2-1 in favor of Santa Margarita; 8-5 in favor of Mater Dei, and 7-6 in favor of Servite/Rosary. Four members of the committee were absent.

The council vote: 30-14 in favor of the Santa Margarita move and 29-15 for both Mater Dei and Servite/Rosary. There were 21 league representatives absent.

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Attorney David Larsen, representing eight districts now opposing the moves, argued that public school principals were denied due process and fairness at a previous General Council meeting.

Santa Margarita was allowed to join a public league in a Feb. 20 decision by the section’s Executive Committee. Three weeks later, the General Council voted to allow Mater Dei, Servite and Rosary into public leagues.

Wednesday, the General Council, made up of representatives of the section’s 66 leagues, discussed the four criteria for the placement of a school in a geographic area and then presented findings.

The criteria, according to the CIF Blue Book: the initial request of a school to be placed, the geographic proximity of a school to others in its area, the number of schools impacted by a league configuration and special circumstances.

As they have before, some county public school principals argued that the lack of an attendance area for Catholic schools would cause athletic inequity and create special circumstances that could have prevented the realignment. They also argued that Catholic schools’ selective enrollment and financial aid were reasons to keep them out of public leagues.

“Taking all four high schools at one time and placing them with public schools is like dropping a bomb on us,” Brand said.

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Catholic administrators argued that excessive travel time for students and rising transportation costs were the primary reasons for requesting to be placed in public leagues.

“We’re looking at a savings of $35,000 to $40,000 in transportation costs a year if we join a county league,” Mater Dei Principal Lyle Porter said.

A county releaguing committee has already determined that Mater Dei will join the South Coast League, Servite/Rosary the Sunset League and Santa Margarita the Sea View League beginning in 1992.

Thomas said he was moderately surprised to learn that the eight county districts had dropped plans to litigate the issue.

“It appears that Dr. Hartman has reviewed the facts and will be complying with the rules and regulations of the CIF, and I thank him,” Thomas said. “Hartman has fought the good fight, and I give him credit. But it’s time to live as a family and heal our wounds.”

Thomas added that future council meetings would follow Wednesday’s procedure, in which “findings” were voted upon and recorded.

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“In all fairness, as much as I don’t care for attorneys, what they (eight school districts) forced us to do is good. It’s fair and rational, and we’ll follow those procedures in all of our meetings.”

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