|A Betrayal of Trust:
The North Redondo Attendance Agreement and the Failure of Community Leadership
by Garrison Frost
In the next few months, we're going to hear a lot about the Manhattan Beach Unified School District's decision to cease renewal of a long-standing agreement that allowed students living in North Redondo Beach to attend the much closer Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach instead of Redondo Union High School which is perhaps three times as far.
Manhattan Beach's stated reasons for this cancellation seem legitimate. Mira Costa is nearing maximum capacity. Furthermore, in order to get its recent bond approved for construction the high school, the School Board promised the voters that the money would go toward improvements rather than expansion. Nonetheless, in an attempt to reduce the impact of the change, the district has said it will allow kids currently attending Mira Costa to finish their education there, and it will allow siblings of kids who began a family tradition at Mira Costa to do the same.
Even with these caveats, a number of North Redondo Beach families are furious. These families say they bought their homes in North Redondo Beach with the expectation that their children would be allowed to attend Mira Costa. Further, they don't like the idea of their kids having to travel the greater distance. Given the crazy geometry of Redondo Beach, stories abound of families who can throw a baseball to Mira Costa but will have to send their children to a school five miles away.
Two Redondo Beach City Councilmen have prodded their colleagues in city government to try and help. At the direction of the council, Redondo Beach's city attorney sent a letter to the Manhattan Beach Unified School District arguing that an environmental impact study be done to assess the increased traffic and safety issues from the change. Manhattan Beach has responded that it will fight such a contention in court if pushed to that.
Officials from the Redondo Beach Unified School District have essentially pushed all blame for the crisis on Manhattan Beach, and have emphasized that they will welcome the students to Redondo Union. It is no secret that the Redondo district has long sought getting these students to its high school, and letting Manhattan Beach be the bad guy is a simple solution.
What we are seeing in this case is nothing short of an outright betrayal of the general citizens by the entire leadership sector of the community.
Hoping to find a solution to the problem, many have sought out the text of the initiative which dissolved the old South Bay High School District as well as the contents of the agreement allowing Redondo kids to attend Mira Costa. But to fight this issue solely on the basis of the paperwork is a dangerous mistake for all parties. In reality, that is not the way communities are run. Communities are divided between two groups: the general citizens who have jobs and raise kids and go about their business; and the leadership, which for whatever reason asserts itself into the positions of responsibility. The tacit agreement between these two groups is that neither will do anything to greatly upset the functions of the other.
By 1992, this leadership group had long decided that unifying school districts was the right thing to do. Of course, there was the issue of giving each district the opportunity to create a kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum, but there was also a bit of elitism involved. With the old South Bay High School District, kids from Manhattan Beach were sharing classrooms with kids from Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach and that didn't always sit well with people. Even worse, occasionally elected officials from Redondo Beach made decisions about what was best for Manhattan Beach kids and vice versa. Best, these leaders felt, if every city just had its own school district. That way, leaders from each city would make the decisions about their own.
And so officials were ready in 1992 to finally unify the districts. The only problem was where kids from North Redondo would attend high school. It was these same officials who had closed Aviation 10 years earlier, and only gotten away with it on the promise that students would still be able to go to Mira Costa. Now, in order to sell its notion of unification, these same leaders were compelled to assure residents that these kids would be able to continue to attend Mira Costa. Trust us, they said. We'll never let it come to pass that your kids will have to go to Redondo Union. We will never make you suffer for this favor you're doing us.
Well, it's been just a little more than 10 years since those promises were made. The people who made those promises are gone, replaced by another group who sees things differently, who doesn't feel beholden to those commitments.
We should have known what was coming when newspapers OK, just the Easy Reader began making an issue of how test scores from students living in Redondo affected the overall scores of students at Mira Costa. And we should have seen it when Manhattan Beach sold its bond on the basis of upgrades rather than expansion. The old elitist drumbeat was sounding again, but no one was paying attention to where it was leading. Most people make a mistake in assuming that this issue is new. In reality, there were rumblings that Manhattan Beach might pull out of the agreement several years ago. Officials from both sides even met and agreed that they would work together to bring the North Redondo students to Redondo Union. When word got out about their plans, however, both sides quickly retreated.
It's frankly sickening these days to hear Manhattan Beach School Board members arguing that there's nothing in writing that says the attendance agreement would last forever. It's even more sickening to hear these board members acting as if these students were guests and not constituents that have been responsible over many years for a substantial amount of funding for the high school. It's almost as bad to seeing Redondo Beach officials claim these families for their own but not help them get what they want, which is to send their kids to Mira Costa. Instead, Redondo has begun sort of a marketing campaign for its high school and offered assistance, but no money, for transportation.
For local leaders to act as if this issue is beyond their control is offensive. It's equally disturbing for officials in one city to point at officials in another, for one district administration to lay the blame on another district's board.
As I mentioned earlier, the world doesn't work that way. Those who call themselves leaders are in one category, and everyone else is in another. Individuals from each group may change over time, but the essential relationships and the promises made by each necessarily endure.
The easiest way to illustrate this argument is to look to the future. If this agreement is broken, what will happen the next time our leadership comes to us with a major initiative concerning our future? Because it's impossible to put everything into writing, there will no doubt be assurances, promises, a sort of compact offered along the lines of "you do what we're asking, and we'll make sure you don't get screwed."
Local leaders make these kinds of promises all the time. The most recent instance I can recall were the assurances offered by Redondo Beach elected officials about how they would never let the Heart of the City development include up to 2,999 units, even though the documents expressly allowed that number. It's also happening in El Segundo right now, where officials are trying to convince residents that it makes sense to cede land to Hawthorne on the basis that it will save the Air Force base. And it will happen again and again over undergrounding, development, commercial expansion, business support or the schools.
One can only wonder if the residents will be willing to accept such a compact if our leaders succeed in pulling off this collective screwing of the residents of North Redondo Beach. As we saw with the above mentioned Heart of the City issue, residents are already dubious when it comes to assurances from their leaders. My guess is that they'll be even less willing to believe what they're promised in the future.
(Feb. 1, 2003)
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