A few months ago, local political observers were predicting that the April 9 election for the two Valley seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education would be a yawner.
After all, the offices were held by two entrenched incumbents--Roberta Weintraub in the East Valley and Tom Bartman in the West Valley. Both had been popular figures in the Valley-based movement against the school district's mandatory reassignment program.
Besides, the once-emotional issue of desegregation was a thing of the past: A 1979 anti-busing amendment to the state Constitution and a U.S. Supreme Court decision had ended the possibility of any kind of mandatory reassignment of Los Angeles city school students.
Seemingly Minor Issues
The only issues left were, relatively speaking, small potatoes. And, the school board itself no longer looked like the political stepping stone it was once viewed to be. Hardly the stuff of premiere campaigns.
But Bartman changed all that Monday when he announced that he would not seek a second four-year term. Now the race for the West Valley's seat is wide open and the only one of three school board races without an incumbent.
The East Valley is different these days, too. The demographic makeup of that area's schools has changed dramatically since Weintraub was elected in the spring of 1979. It is now the Valley's most ethnically diverse region, and appears to clash with Weintraub's conservative politics. One candidate, a Latina, is already trying to gain the support of blacks, Latinos and Asians in her bid against Weintraub.
Finally, despite appearances, the issues aren't small potatoes. There is little likelihood that there will be any mandatory reassignment of students for desegregation purposes, but the controversy over the desegregation of Los Angeles schools may return to the courts in coming months, now that the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has given permission to the NAACP to reargue part of the case.
The resurrection of the busing case, combined with continuing school board discussions of possibly changing ethnic ratios and travel times for participants in voluntary desegregation programs, has made the desegregation issue prominent again.
Valley school board candidates, who must file "declarations of intent" between today and Monday, are beginning to discuss problems such as school closures, crowding, the quality of the teaching staff, how to teach non-English-speaking students, criticism of standardized tests and a new "baby boom."
In short, the Valley has become a microcosm of the Los Angeles School District. It can anticipate a campaign in which "local" issues will be similar to those being debated at the district level.
The line that divides the Valley's two school districts roughly follows Sepulveda Boulevard from north to south.
The West Valley district, District 4, is largely affluent, well-educated and predominantly white, and is the region where most of the school closures caused by dwindling enrollments have occurred. Some West Valley junior and senior high schools have also experienced "reconfiguration," the movement of sixth-graders to junior high and ninth-graders to senior high schools in order to prop sagging enrollments.
West Valley schools are now finding that a growing number of their resident students are limited-English speakers, with languages ranging from Spanish to Farsi. In addition, the empty classrooms of the past decade are beginning to fill with students who were once in private schools and with the late-in-arriving offspring of the baby boom generation.
With Bartman bowing out of the West Valley race, a plethora of candidates is likely to file for the seat. So far, the two names mentioned most often as candidates are Carrie Vacar, a former teacher, and David Armor, a policy analyst.
Vacar, a teacher in the Los Angeles system for 12 years, said she retired several years ago after being "bombarded" with paperwork and other activities that took her attention away from teaching and the classroom.
I became "angry about what was going on (in the school system) and at the low teacher morale. I resigned and at that point had no political experience. I left the school district with issues in mind. I'm doing this simply because I want to help improve education," said Vacar, a resident of Woodland Hills.
Vacar supports the concept of establishing a separate San Fernando Valley school district. She said she opposes more school closures "because there are schools that are overcrowded in other parts of the city. Of course, it's terrible to see a child travel more than half an hour to another school, but the only way we can keep our schools open is if those children can come into our schools."
Vacar is chairman of Valley Organization for Improved Childhood Education, a group recently organized to lend support to the fight to stop school closings.
Armor, a policy analyst who has specialized in education, has formed his own anti-closure group, Valley Parent Action Committee.