Stanton v. Sequoia Union High School Dist., No. C-75-2687 SC.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
Citation408 F. Supp. 502
Docket NumberNo. C-75-2687 SC.
PartiesClinton STANTON, Sr. and Beverly A. Stanton on their own behalf and as Guardians ad litem for Pamela Stanton, et al., Plaintiffs, v. The SEQUOIA UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT et al., Defendants.
Decision Date10 February 1976

408 F. Supp. 502

Clinton STANTON, Sr. and Beverly A. Stanton on their own behalf and as Guardians ad litem for Pamela Stanton, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
The SEQUOIA UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT et al., Defendants.

No. C-75-2687 SC.

United States District Court, N. D. California.

February 10, 1976.


408 F. Supp. 503

Spaeth, Blase, Valentine & Klein, Palo Alto, Cal., for plaintiffs.

Keith C. Sorenson, Dist. Atty., George F. Camerlengo, Deputy Dist. Atty., San Mateo County, Redwood City, Cal., for defendants.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

CONTI, District Judge.

We are asked to consider whether a school board's decision to close the only high school in a predominantly black neighborhood violates the equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. The request is brought on behalf of classes of students, parents, residents and concerned others1 under § 1983 of Title 42 U.S.C. and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), this being an action for an injunction redressing constitutional and statutory rights. The high school district, acting through the members of its board of trustees, and the parent county board of education are alleged to have adopted and begun to implement a constitutionally impermissible school desegregation plan which puts the burden of that otherwise commendable goal entirely upon black students and their parents.

The target of this plan is Ravenswood High School in East Palo Alto, a predominantly black community which lies at the northeastern-most extremity of the Sequoia Union High School District in San Mateo County. The district, which is roughly in the shape of an elongated horseshoe, extends west and northwest, encompassing the cities of Menlo Park, Atherton, Redwood City, Woodside, San Carlos, and Belmont, in addition to East Palo Alto, in an area of approximately 100 square miles. Within this area are presently six high schools — Ravenswood, Menlo-Atherton, Woodside, Sequoia, San Carlos, and Carlmont. Carlmont High School is at the western tip of the horseshoe and Ravenswood is at the eastern tip, separated by a distance of some 10 to 12 miles. The Bayshore Freeway, which cuts across the top of the horseshoe, separates from the remainder of the school district most of East Palo Alto, as well as the predominantly white community of Redwood Shores.2

Under the plan, students living within the present Ravenswood attendance area, most of whom are black, are to be

408 F. Supp. 504
bussed across the freeway to one of the other five high schools. It is the deprivation of their neighborhood school and the "one-way busing" they must abide of which plaintiffs complain. In point of fact, the district has reassigned the present Ravenswood attendance area students to high schools only one of which is the next nearest school, this according to the Board being done to achieve racial balance throughout the district. Plaintiffs allege that the plan operates to deprive only black students, not white students, of their neighborhood schools, in violation of the former's constitutional rights

This court on December 17, 1975, upon the District's assurance that it would suspend any negotiations in which it was engaging to sell or lease the Ravenswood property, denied plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order which would have gone somewhat further in not only blocking the negotiations, but also halting the District's administrative planning in furtherance of the closure decision, including paper relocation of school equipment and facilities and student and teacher reassignments, the latter being, in plaintiffs' contemplation, detrimental to the morale of Ravenswood students attending during the present 1975-76 school year. A full hearing on the matter was had in this court on January 27, 1976. Defendants at that time agreed not to resume sale or lease negotiations until a final decision was forthcoming from this court.

Before going further into the factual background of this case, we shall state at the outset what we believe to be the legal issue presented, as well as what we believe not to be the issue. Under the governing legal principles, we are not here to decide whether the school board adopted the best solution to the problems confronting it of lowered enrollment, increased costs in the face of diminishing revenues, and the desirability of integration in the operation of the Sequoia Union High School District's six high schools. The mechanics of running a school system are solely within the power, authority, and prerogative of the duly elected school board, so long as the board performs its duty without running afoul of the constraints imposed by the Constitution. This court should not and will not inject its own opinion or ideas as to which is the best system or plan or what it thinks is a better plan. We judge only whether the board's plan as adopted operates constitutionally. In the context of this case, we decide only whether the Board's plan to close Ravenswood is within constitutional restraints.

Factual Background of the Board's Action

In 1950, with a total enrollment of 2,950 students, the District operated one high school, Sequoia.3 The five present additional high schools were constructed as district enrollment figures climbed to a peak in 1969-70 of 12,379 students.4 Since that time enrollment has been on the decline, to the point that by the fall of 1975, the district total was down from peak figures more than 1,500 students to 10,827. Furthermore, enrollment projections indicate a total enrollment in the 1982-83 school year of 8,223, or a 34% decrease from peak enrollment.5

408 F. Supp. 505

When these actual enrollment figures were compared with the total capacities of the six district high schools, 11,937,6 the District began to consider closing one or more of the schools. To make matters worse, the District is now facing serious financial difficulties. Projections show that the present level of expenditures will exceed income in 1976-77 by approximately $1.4 million.7 The major source of revenue for school districts is local taxes. However, this source of revenue is limited by sections 2201 et seq. of the California Revenue and Taxation Code which in substance places a ceiling on the amount of revenues obtainable without voter approval. In two revenue limit increase elections called by the District in November, 1974 and March, 1975, the voters failed to approve an increase in the revenue limit.8 Faced with the need to balance the district's budget, the Board in March, 1975 took action to cut more than $2 million from the district budget and authorized the elimination of more than 100 employee positions.9

This adverse financial picture coupled with declining enrollment dictated that the possibility of closing a school be studied. In January, 1975 District Superintendent Chaffey appointed a committee to study and make a recommendation on school closure.10 The methods used by the task force in arriving at its conclusions included: (1) Developing criteria for selecting the school to be closed (including adequacy of the facility, enrollment factors, location, cost savings, resulting transportation costs, maintenance of educational programs, community relationships (including the need for integration), and disposition of property)11; (2) gathering information on these criteria; (3) conducting surveys of community desires of parents, students, and staff; and (4) studying the feasibility of keeping all six schools open and saving money through other means. See Sequoia Union High School District Report on School Closure, August 19, 1975 hereinafter School Closure Report p. 2, Exhibit 1 to Affidavit of Marion

408 F. Supp. 506
McDowell, Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent and Chairperson of the Report Committee

The report indicated that the most important criteria were the maintenance of existing educational programs and services and the amount of operating cost savings.12 The closure committee also investigated alternatives to closing a school which would allow a balanced budget. These included sale of unused district property and equipment, increased funds from summer programs, a voter-approved revenue limit increase, and federal funds.13 The committee determined that these alternatives would be insufficient to solve the financial problem and that were all six high schools to be left open, "major cuts" in the entire educational program in the district would be necessary. The committee's final recommendation, therefore, opted for school closure over debilitating across-the-board program slashes. The committee evaluated the impact on finances and education by simulating the closing of one school at a time, leaving the remaining five open, and concluded that Ravenswood should be closed effective July 1, 1976, with a second closure, probably of Carlmont, to take place not later than 1981. The Board of Trustees adopted these recommendations.

The Decision to Close Ravenswood

The task force's targeting of Ravenswood for first closure was based on the following application of the accumulated data to the evaluation criteria listed above:

(1) While the Ravenswood facilities are new — in fact, next to the newest of the district schools — and the operating and maintenance costs are the lowest of the six schools (reflecting the small size of the plant and the school's low enrollment), the cost for building renovation, repair and replacement, were the school to remain open, would be the second highest of the six schools, at $488,125.14

(2) While student population living in the Ravenswood attendance area is approximately 1,350 for 1975-76, only about 450 students from the area are actually enrolled at Ravenswood, with total school attendance of about 690 students, or about 43% of the school's rated capacity.15 This is far less, in the committee's view, than "efficient enrollment levels" would dictate. Additionally,...

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1 practice notes
  • Tinsley v. Palo Alto Unified School Dist.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 13, 1979
    ...an account of desegregation actions in Sequoia Union High School District see Stanton v. Sequoia Union High School Dist. (N.D.Cal.1976) 408 F.Supp. 502, Gomperts v. Chase (N.D.Cal.1971) 329 F.Supp. 1192, and Gomperts v. Chase (1971) 404 U.S. 1237, 92 S.Ct. 16, 30 L.Ed.2d 30, Douglas, J., de......
1 cases
  • Tinsley v. Palo Alto Unified School Dist.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • April 13, 1979
    ...an account of desegregation actions in Sequoia Union High School District see Stanton v. Sequoia Union High School Dist. (N.D.Cal.1976) 408 F.Supp. 502, Gomperts v. Chase (N.D.Cal.1971) 329 F.Supp. 1192, and Gomperts v. Chase (1971) 404 U.S. 1237, 92 S.Ct. 16, 30 L.Ed.2d 30, Douglas, J., de......

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